Politicians are still getting fat in these hard times. They are so rotund that they cannot even unbuckle their sandals, leave alone shoes. Case in point, Tamil Nadu Forests Minister Dindigul C. Sreenivasan who is in the social media spotlight after beckoning a boy to undo his sandals for him to enter a temple. The minister was in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in west Tamil Nadu, abutting the Kerala and Karnataka borders, to attend a state ceremony opening a rejuvenation camp for captive elephants. Imagine, rejuvenating jumbos that slog all day clearing timber as mankind’s version of development makes deeper inroads and national highways into the region once famous as the lair of sandalwood smuggler-brigand-Robin Hood Veerappan, he of the dense handlebar moustache.

Minister Sreenivasan may not have understood the significance of calling a random boy to undo his footwear. That random boy turned out to be a tribal child. Strangely, those outraging don’t get the idea that city kids in slick sneakers and bespoke denim shorts don’t walk around unattended without ayahs and skulking SUVs, promising instant air-conditioning in those 35-plus degrees of tropical heat.

Yes, the minister shouldn’t have called a child to do his bidding and should be punished for it. But why are we taking offence to slights when the whole political establishment has become a farce replicating more and more tepid inanities? Remember the speeches by BJP elected representatives in the Delhi election campaign.

Returning to Sreenivasan, didn’t he have a retinue to turn to for help instead of bending, we wonder. The token outrage is not at why the tribal boy was hanging around on a Thursday instead of being in the nearest school, or was the school itself off to shore up numbers? Shoe politics has pinched several politicians including Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. When she was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, the outraging social media was up in tweets when a policeman in Mayawati’s security detail cleaned her shoes. When interviewed later, the policeman didn’t see it as anything separate from his work much to the interviewer’s surprise.

To jump to a hasty conclusion is the easiest thing to do. And from that crack, fake news creeps up diverting attention that would be better utilized in absorbing and reacting to things that have a much greater bearing on our immediate present and future. Remember a fundamental characteristic of the Constitution is now no more. Take this other example, a senior Goan politician was recently accused of saying tigers should be punished for killing cows.

Goa MLA and former CM Churchill Alemao’s rhetoric in the Goa Assembly recently was almost turned into a call to cull tigers venturing into the state. Alemao is reported to have said punish tigers if they kill cows. The urge to tweak a headline is fine but ending up snapping the neck of the story is like… duh. Alemao, a PTI report notes, was asking how if humans can be punished for killing cows, should tigers also not be punished in reference to cow politics that has throttled trade in cattle and several communities along with it. Possibly, the message was not understood in the correct sense because Goa is also ruled by the BJP. And trust us, Alemao knows better.

But as Justice (retired) Markandey Katju reminded us some 5 years or so ago, most of us Indians are not that smart. Therefore, the shock and the how-could-hes. The ability to understand sarcasm is not a universal Indian trait. Twisting the import of full paragraphs into an isolated sentence is kind of what has landed this country into the deep ditch of the self-inflicted economic slowdown and the inability to choose options that could undo the damage.

Here’s for better ministerial allowances so that they attend plush gyms, shed some inches and don’t land into sandal controversies.

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