I’ve spent the last few weeks reading about life in prison. I must say it’s time well spent. Advance preparation always helps. Tomorrow I could be carted off to jail. So could you. In case you’ve been too busy stealing hotel towels in Bali to get what I’m talking about, let me bring you up to speed. According to a proposed new amendment to the UAPA, the government can unilaterally declare you a terrorist . The onus will then be on you to prove that you aren’t one. The best part is you don’t even have to do any actual terrorism — such as shooting, exploding bombs etc. All that’s needed is for the government to think the thought.
It’s like how God created the universe: let there be light, and there was light. One fine morning, Chota Voldemort wakes up and says, “Let Sharma-ji be a terrorist”, and lo and behold, from that day on, Sharma-ji is Kasab-ji. The logical next step is to pick up Sharma-ji and throw him in jail, which is what’s in store for you and me and every other non-cow in India – no matter how garishly patriotic you are or how loudly you proclaim on Twitter that you’re privileged to be followed by our beloved leader.
So what’s your plan? I have a Plan A and a Plan B. My Plan A is simple: to be the one person in India who will NEVER EVER be designated a terrorist. Come what may. Even if it means in the entire country I’m the only non-terrorist left standing, my sexy Aadhaar and handsome PAN linked majestically in glorious digital matrimony. Even if it means I have to vote again and again for rapists, serial murderers, street thugs and certified fraudsters. Even if it means turning a blind eye to the fact that at this precise historical moment, Rwanda is superior to India as a democracy.
But there’s a good chance that Plan A may fail, on account of factors beyond my control. Hence Plan B, whose first part involves acknowledging the inevitable: if you are an ordinary citizen of India and not an MP from Bhopal, it’s just a matter of time before you’re declared a terrorist. Why? Because you really are a terrorist, you fool! Think about it: if tomorrow you are deemed a terrorist, and you respond by telling the government, “No, I’m not,” you are finished. First, you will be speaking as a terrorist, which means your words mean nothing. Second, by trying to prove the government wrong, you are, ipso facto , questioning the government’s wisdom — in other words, you are dissenting, and voila, you are a terrorist!
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that any form of non-violent dissent is a potential act of terrorism because it could, in the future, inspire disaffection against the government, leading to an actual act of terrorist violence. Every non-violent dissenter is, therefore, a terrorist in spirit if not in act. The government is right in holding that the traditional method of declaring a person a terrorist — through a conviction in a court of law after a trial — is outdated. In this day and age, anyone the government considers a threat to its interests is a terrorist. So why shouldn’t it have the right to declare you or me a terrorist?
Pure desi penance
This brings me to the second part of Plan B. I encourage you to memorise this section as it’s certain to come in handy. As soon as you are declared a terrorist, don’t make the mistake of proclaiming your innocence. Acknowledge right away that the government is right.
If you publicly accept your guilt, do penance by feeding 10,000 cows (pure desi ones, not foreign or mixed breeds) and beg Chota Voldemort for mercy, you may (there is no guarantee) get a prison cell with Wi-Fi that actually works.
Speaking for myself, my only prayer is that I should be permitted to take lumbar cushions and allowed to go for physiotherapy thrice a week. Ideally I would’ve liked to start a campaign for better living conditions in Indian jails — but I don’t want to end up in jail earlier than I have to. Anyway, you don’t have to be influenced by my personal aversion to imprisonment.
If you think about it, you’ll realise it may actually be a blessing in prison uniform. Haven’t you always complained about not getting the time to write your novel? As you probably know, some of the greatest works of literature were written in prison. Write yours in Tihar Jail and a Booker is guaranteed. When you collect the prize, don’t forget to thank me in your acceptance speech.