Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Elephant in the Back Room

It can hardly have escaped general notice that the world is currently in an election cycle. As happens every five years, it's time once again to elect the legislative assembly of Uttar Pradesh, one of India's larger and more populous states. The reigning party in "You Pee" (as the state is fondly known in India) is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), whose symbol is the evocative and much-adored elephant, rendered exactly thus:

I say "evocative and much-adored" because the elephant, in the person of Ganesh, is patron of the arts and sciences, bestower of intellect, grantor of wisdom and learning:

"Four arms and a trunk - top that."

I say "in the person of Ganesh," presuming godheads can be persons. On the other hand, if corporations can be persons, particularly in an election cycle, then assuredly godheads can be as well, particularly since we've agreed to indulge in fictions. Be that as it may, the Indian nation holds Ganapati in high regard and shows it in many forms, not least of which is an affectionate ritual of waterboarding.

(Glad he has a long trunk)

As it happens, the party which has chosen the elephant as its symbol is a centrist party with socialist leanings and represents Bahujans ("people in majority"), the very lowest castes and various neglected minorities. Time reports that in Uttar Pradesh, "Workers had to cover nearly 200 statues of elephants . . . because the nation's election commission ruled that since the statues were built using public money, they violated rules for next month's election and gave the Bahujan Samaj Party an unfair advantage of added visibility." They were duly shrouded from view more or less effectively.

 "Ummm, let's see . . . catamaran? catamite?"

It should have occurred to someone in the loyal opposition that wrapping acres of large elephant statues in bright colors might not be the best way to divert public attention. Turns out there are a good many elephant statues around You Pee - tarpaulins in any color have quickly come in scarce supply and tarpaulin funds have gone through the ceiling on the Hong Kong Exchange.

One can only applaud the fairmindedness and evenhandedness of the state's election officials, overlooking for a moment the negligible socio-economic status of the elephantine party's adherents. Such local custom can appear, in a more enlightened and (dare I say) developed country, to be a kind of electoral tampering. And it should come as little surprise that the noble elephant . . . 

. . . should, in a benighted nation, stand for adherence to a godless socialism, or symbolize wisdom, learning and intellect, for all of that - a nation of heathens who subscribe to erroneous creation myths, heterodox incarnations of the Divine, the carnal trafficking of gods with humans, and other like superstitions. . . .

Wait. I've seen that blank stare, the studied smile, the deathlike rictus somewhere before. Ahh . . .

Nonetheless, it seems creditable of India's national election commission to at least attempt to obscure from public notice anything that may unduly influence democratic process in the world's largest democracy. In this, India has taken a page from the world's oldest democracy, our own, where anything that may unduly influence democratic process is, with the wise indulgence of our highest courts, obscured from public notice.

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