The trouble with giving a piece of mind is that the other fellow might give his in return to shut you up. It is called repartee. Most of us can give a fitting reply only when the point is quite lost. OK we suffer from a delayed reaction for which the French has an expression, l’espirit de l’escalier staircase wit literally. Wit has its own shades: savage, gentle, and even whimsical. In the following examples Indian lawmakers tilt lances with dunces and clever in the House as well as in public rallies.
Lately we find Indian politicians indulge in witticisms but being politicians they do not wish to draw blood but votes. It is Union of India under which they shoot their mouths but with an eye on the electoral bank they want to please the lowest denominator of their constituent. Recently a Bihari politician in response to a politician in Maharashtra threw his gauntlet down. He declared in Bihar no workers from outside the state are welcome. Next moment he backtracked all that blood and thunder speech to say Bihar welcomed all. A nit is a staircase wit who has got his foot in mouth. One with cold feet will never make a wit.
How do we define a wit then? Giving full expression of one’s gift of the gab to its terseness is an art. Only a wit can deliver it when time calls for it and to maximum effect. I am afraid that art is now dying.
When Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India Vasant Sathe was the Minister for Energy who just had undergone a bypass surgery. Before the Cabinet session got under way the PM inquired after his surgery and turned to Mr. Jagdish Tytler, the Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation and mentioned the pressure exerted by the then Chief Minister of Andhra for increased flights to Hyderabad. Mr. Gandhi was keen to win over the people of Andhra, who had dumped Congress and put Telugu Desam in power. With an eye for the coming elections the PM wanted Mr. Tytler to see that their demands were given priority. Meanwhile Sathe stepped in urging that airlink to Nagpur was streamlined since Nagpur was the heart of India.
Somewhat distracted by this demand he could only say, “These days there is a tendency to bypass the heart.”
Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who had the dubious honor of being the President during the Emergency days was noted for his gentle humor. While he was the Food Minister of India there were agitated and angry scenes in the House over reports of starvation deaths. Piloo Mody M.P, heavy in girth and of ready wit made a dig at the Green Revolution and asked ‘Where is all the food going despite the Green Revolution?’ Ahmed looked at him and said, “A look at Mr. Mody will convince the House where all the food is going.”
In 1986 there was a demand from the Uttar Pradesh government for importing bullet-proof jackets. Thiru Gopalaswamy of DMK used the question hour to raise the issue in the House. The member wanted to know whether bulletproof pants also would be considered which the Home Minister suspected was a frivolous one. A.B Vajpayee raised this question, “ What is the use of bulletproof jackets without bullet proof pants?”
Rajiv Gandhi replied: “To preserve the Hon. Member’s chastity.”
DMK party made well use of cinema to drive home its message. It fought Brahmin hold on the South Indian politics and helped the people who earlier were on the fringes of power, and downtrodden because of Aryan bias in the communities that had rode on the coat tails of British Raj. CN Annadurai was one of the leading lights whose oratory in Tamil as well as in English was seldom equalled since the formation of Tamil Nadu.
In one of the public speaking engagements he was interrupted by a youth who asked,’ Can you give me a sentence which contains ‘because’ coming continuously thrice?’
Catching the heckler’s question CN Annadurai raised his hand slightly and asked,’Ah, you want a sentence in which because comes continuously thrice?’
The heckler nodded.
After a pause CN replied, ‘My friend, no sentence ends in because, because ‘because’ is a conjunction.’
The resignation of Mr. Chandra Sekhar over a political scandal on Surveillance Issue led to the dissolution of Loka Sabha in March 1991. Before the government fell there were rumbles as far as in Tamil Nadu where Karunanidhi had to resign over allegations that he was soft on LTTE operations inside the State. Thus there was no love lost between Chandra Sekhar and Mr. M. Karunanidhi.
Three elected governments in Assam, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu fell; in the fourth Haryana which was at the center of the Surveillance controversy the Congress(I) wanted Prime Minister to dismiss the government. But Chandra Sekhar refused to act.
In this background M. Karunanidhi took part in a meeting at Patna the leader of the DMK compared the PM to a monkey. He said,’Once upon a time there was a magician who gave his pet monkey a few garlands,one at a time. These garlands were Assam, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu.Then the magician gave another garland called Haryana to the monkey, hoping the monkey would tear it apart. Instead the monkey wore the garland around his neck. This angered the magician who threw the monkey into a well’.
S. Satyamurthy(1887-1943) first arrived to take seat in the Central Assembly in 1934 from Madras. He was nicknamed the trumpet boy of the Congress but he could hold his own when he had to take issues with treasury benches and Indians alike.
The debate in the Central Assembly over the recent hunger strikes staged by political prisoners was a stormy one. After an impassioned speech by Bhai Paramanand(1876-1947), Sir Henry Craik,- the same worthy who could boast of having worn the same coat for eight years, in order to defuse the heated atmosphere took the floor. He began glossing over the Andamans where the political prisoners were sent, as not bad as made out in the Indian press.
Satyamurthy interrupted the hon’ble member to ask,” In view of the hon’ble Home member‘s description, does the Government of India intend to change their Summer headquarters from Simla to Port Blair?’
The House broke into laughter.
J.B Kripalani was a freedom fighter and a Nationalist who didn’t however seek with the freedom at Midnight the spoils of war. Within five years after the country won Independence he broke with the Congress party to found Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party. In the election for parliamentary seat he stood from Bombay. He was beaten by VK Krishna Menon who as the Defense Minister had to answer for the debacle, which India suffered in the Border dispute with China.
It was the debate in Parliament over thenational defense and Acharya who represented Amroha was present. So was Krishna Menon and Acharya took the floor and first looking towards him he said,’I hope Mr. Menon, that you will defend yourself more effectively than you defended the country from the Chinese invaders.’ For once VK Krishna Menon was
In the wake of the easy success China had on our North-Eastern Border in the House there were questions, which were sharp and acrimonious. On one occasion Nehru decried the importance of Aksai Chin region, which the Chinese had run over. He added that not a blade of grass grew there. It prompted Mahavir Tyagi to show his bald head and he said not a single hair grew there. He said that it was no reason for having his head chopped off.