Friday, August 28, 2015

Take care, do not provoke this lion


Aesop’s Fables is history cum legend. ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ survives though on a limited scale. Not many people know what happened between Androcles and the Lion. For many years cinematic lions (including the famous MGM breed) which were shown tearing cowering human victims from limb to limb provided live entertainment to bloodthirsty Romans in their famous arenas dominated world cinema. Occasionally the humans fought back. One of them, Samson, defeated a lion with an unusual weapon, the jawbone of an ass. The lion, as a fiercely hunted animal in many parts of the world, sought shelter in remote parts of the world.  The tamed varieties of the King of the jungle, with their teeth and claws pulled out, were even trained to perform in circuses and in artificially-staged fights. They succumbed to film heroes who, in real life, fled from rabbits and asses. The Indian producer seldom gave up. Film journalist, founder and editor of political magazine Mother India, Baburao Patel, known for his vitriolic comments spoofed the fight scene of the black and white version of Samson and Delilah (‘Aurat’), starring He-man hero Premnath and Bina Rai, that the lion was too strong for the hero who thought of a brilliant counterattack, ignored the animal’s vulnerable body parts and vigorously tickled it all over. Unable to control its laughter, the lion laughed uproariously and fell over roaring in laughter. The desi ‘Samson, seizing an opportunity, put his hands into the lion’s open mouth and tore it, killing it. The awed enemy fled in terror.
The Samson legend stayed but not the episode from the film or the comments of the critic. To most Indians, the lion was still the king of the jungle though occasionally outwitted by smaller animals like the rabbit. Wonderful TV Channels like Discovery brought this fact closer. Even Walt Disney had to agree! The Indian lion was associated with the legend of Bharat – symbolising bravery and courage, along with the Tiger. It is not known how the Asiatic lions came to be so closely associated with Gujarat. What was the link between the strictly vegetarian Gujarat and its strictly non-vegetarian lions? The various theories put forth on this issue did not satisfy scientists and zoologists
In the meantime, the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh laid a claim for a second lion sanctuary in the state with the argument that the Asiatic lions could not be the monopoly of just one state. Already Gujarat claimed monopoly over Gandhian thoughts, the 2002 riots, Ambani refineries, prices of Amul Milk and other products which alone refused to comedown. No wonder the relocation of the Gir lions became a political issue. For once, the BJP-dominated Gujarat had to lock horns with Madhya Pradesh, another BJP stronghold where the stranglehold of the Sangh Parivar was only threatened with the startling recent revelations over dozens of examinations and manipulated results conducted by the state government. These scandals did not spare the Chief Minister who was assiduously playing second fiddle to Narendra Modi, the supreme hero of the Sangh parivar. The Sangh Parivar was worried whether a rival had finally emerged on the BJP leadership scene.
The major worry for the NDA government was the likelihood of shedding its long held stand that Asiatic lions really needed a second home outside Gujarat’s Gir sanctuary, maintaining the current ‘status quo’ and continuing with the present arrangement. How far is it true that the Union government is likely to present a fresh stand before the Supreme Court? The government had to contend with the views of the earlier governments whose environment ministries backed the relocation move.
Public opinion, now more alive, resulted in more public interest legislation cases against the SC judgement of April 2013 which stated that the Lion Relocation Plan was the best for the species because it was against monopoly ownership for wild animals by any agency. The highest court in the country dismissed several petitions against the judgement filed by the Gujarat government. It has no more legal options in the matter. The current one could well be the last on the issue. Relocating the Big Cats to the Gir forest was a successful move. It was the only venue which stood the test of time. Was it possible now? While the matter has become a legal issue, there is no response of any kind from the government
Legal experts are firm in their view, pointing out that the SC had not wavered its basic stand on the issue even while admitting several stay orders on it. The inevitable conclusion is that the court stand of April 15, 2013 was still valid. It has to be implemented without further delay. The SC issued directives for setting up of a 12-member expert committee to prepare a detailed plan for the relocation of the lions.  In April, the Committee submitted a 56 page report to the state government which included details on the ‘soft’ capture of the lions and their release in Kuno.
There is nothing new in the proposal nor the solutions suggested. Asiatic Lions experts, for more than 25 years have been expressing reservations how animals confined to one specific geographic region could be easy victims to natural disasters like floods, earthquakes. Today there is no escape from such natural calamities. Why not spare a home for the animals, queries a well-known naturalist. Unfortunately, the issue generated state and regional pride, personified in the presence of Prime Minister Modi, who had hogged all the credit for Gujarat’s development. He would not like to let go credit for development of the lion culture. Any proposal to shift the lions (even some of them) would not to be his liking. When Modi roars, even lions have to listen.

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