The collective word for lions is 'pride'. And never has this word been more appropriate than in the current context of the controversy created about some lions from the Gir forest of Gujarat being relocated, thanks to a Supreme Court order, to Madhya Pradesh - a move which appears to have stung the 'asmita' of the state presided over by Narendra Modi.
The proposal to shift a few of the Gir lions is based on the observations made by an environmentalist's report, which has subsequently been upheld by the apex court, that as it is deemed unwise to keep all one's eggs in one basket, it is also imprudent to keep all one's lions in a single forest. As of now, the endangered Asiatic lion has only one habitat left, namely Gir. Were an epidemic to strike the area, the leonine species could become extinct, at least in the wild.
Gir forest officials and other local residents have opposed the move, arguing that the badlands of Madhya Pradesh, rife with poachers and dacoits and short on natural prey for carnivores, are far from ideal for the resettlement of Gujarat's lions. However, there could be reasons other than environmental behind such resistance, which could be influenced by the compulsions of political symbolism. In popular lore, the lion is considered to be the king of the jungle. With his openly aired prime ministerial ambitions, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi is being projected by his supporters as being the future king of India's political jungle.
Coincidentally enough, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is seen by some in the BJP to be a serious rival to NaMo as the party's candidate for the PM's gaddi after the next general elections. Does the relocation of the Gir animals contain a political subtext, that ShiCho might outdo NaMo in grabbing the lion's share of intra-party support for the candidacy of the prime ministerial post?
Such suspicions might not be entirely baseless. Even as the king of the beasts in the wilderness must contend with adversaries in the form of wily shikaris, the political lion of Gujarat has found himself a formidable foe in Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who has threatened to have his JD(U) quit the BJP-led NDA combine if NaMo is nominated as its PM-to-be.
Has the Gujarati lion met his match in the up-and-coming contender from Madhya Pradesh, not to mention the Bihari big game hunter who seems to have set his sights squarely on NaMo? It's said that pride goes before a fall, a saying which may hold true for lions of all varieties, zoological as well as political. But do watch this space as more thrilling episodes in this saga of contending lion kings unfold.