Our Indian Neros

It was five years ago, in 2002, that a holocaust took place in the Indian State of Gujarat. One of the gruesome massacres took place in the Best Bakery of Vadodara. The BJP-led government tried its level best to cover up the incident and allow the culprits to go scot-free. When an appeal was made to the Supreme Court of India, the highest court of the land made the following observations in 2004:

 In a country like ours with heterogeneous religions and multiracial and multilingual society, which necessitates protection against discrimination on the ground of caste or religion, taking lives of persons belonging to one or the other religion is bound to have dangerous repercussions and reactive effect on the society at large and may tend to encourage fissiparous elements to undermine the unity and security of the nation on account of internal disturbances. It strikes at the very root of an orderly society, which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of.

When the ghastly killings take place in the land of Mahatma Gandhi it raises a very pertinent question as to whether some people have become so bankrupt in their ideology that they have deviated from everything which was so dear to him. When large number of people including innocent and hapless children and women are killed in a diabolic manner it brings disgrace to the entire society.

Criminals have no religion. No religion teaches violence, and cruelty-based religion is no religion at all, but a mere cloak to usurp power by fanning ill feeling and playing on feelings aroused thereby. The golden thread passing through every religion is love and compassion. The fanatics who spread violence in the name of religion are worse than terrorists and more dangerous than an alien enemy.


The modern day ‘Neros’ were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected.

It is obvious that the Nero of the first century manifested himself, after roughly two thousand years, in not one but several hierarchical incarnations in India. If one looks back, one finds striking similarities between the Roman Nero and our modern day ‘Neros’. To bring it out, let us peep into history.

Nero was the last Roman emperor of the Julian-Claudian dynasty. Born on December 15, 37 AD, he was adopted by his maternal uncle, Emperor Claudius, who after the death of his first wife married Nero’s mother. He gave his own daughter, Octavia, in marriage to Nero. Nero’s mother was a very ambitious woman who got the Emperor eliminated in order to make Nero, as emperor so that she herself would be the de facto ruler.

Nero ascended the throne in 54 AD at the age of 17. In the initial years of his reign, he impressed his subjects by his generosity and mildness. He reduced taxes, banned capital punishment and contests involving bloodshed in circus, restarted the Olympic Games, banned extortion by government officials and brought in laws to improve the public order. Historians regard the first five years of his reign as the Golden Period of Imperial Rome. Opinion is divided whether Nero had himself initiated these measures or they were the result of the influence of Afranius Burrus, an experienced soldier, and his tutor Annaeus Seneca, a leading philosopher of his time. One account refers to his announcement of emulating the example of Augustus. He treated the Senate with deference and allowed greater freedom in discussions and scope in decision-making. He strove to discharge his judicial duties with sincerity.

There was, however, a sudden change in his attitude and approach. It is said that the murder of the city prefect, Lucius Pedanius Secundus, by one of his slaves proved a turning point. He became so angry that he got all the four hundred slaves of the prefect’s household put to death. With this began the dark period of his rule. He withdrew himself more and more from administrative duties and devoted his time and energy to fun and frolic. He spent most of his time on horse racing, singing, acting, dancing, poetry writing and sexual orgy. His mother tried to rein him in, but he became so enraged that he got her eliminated. With the departure of Burrus and Seneca, there was neither any restraining influence nor any wise counsel.

He wanted to rebuild Rome as a very beautiful city, without any parallel in the world. For this the existing narrow lanes and the crooked by lanes had to be demolished, old and ugly buildings destroyed and the temples coming in the way, razed to the ground. Anew city Neronia was to rise in place of Rome.

In July 64 AD a big devastating fire broke out in Rome, which ravaged it continuously for six days. Thousands of people perished and innumerable works of art were destroyed. The blame for the fire was laid at the doors of the Christians whom the Emperor intensely disliked. Tutored informers were inspired to testify to this. Nero declared that the Christians were prompted by their beliefs and doctrines to indulge in such a heinous act. With this began their persecution and confiscation of their property. In this process Peter and Paul lost their lives in 67 AD.

Coming back to India of 2002, our Neros blamed the Muslims a la Godhara responsible for the Gujarat carnage, which led the loss of 2000 innocent lives and the rape of hundreds of women. A former Muslim Member of Indian Parliament was burnt alive. Our Neros blamed Islam’s ideological orientation as the root cause of the so-called terrorist activities witnessed in Godhara (when a train carrying Hindus coming from Ayodhya) and elsewhere. The chief among the Indian Neros invoked Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” to justify the carnage that followed. One may also refer to the speeches of some of them in Goa soon after this massacre.

When Rome was burning, Nero is said to have climbed the tower of Maecenas, looking upon the blazing flames and playing on his lyre the song of the ruin of Ilium. Victor Hugo’s poem “Nero’s Incendiary Song” very aptly captures the mood and thinking of Nero. With some alterations, what our Neros might have been thinking when Gujarat was burning. In place of the song they were singing of Raj Dharma (the duty of the state).

To quote a few lines from Nero’s song,

My joyful call should instantly bring all who love me most,–
For ne’er were seen such arch lights from Greek or Roman host, —
Nor at the free, control-less jousts, where, spite of cynic vaunts,
Austere but lenient Seneca no Ercles bumper daunts;


I punish Rome, I am avenged. Did she not offer prayers
Erst unto Jove, late unto Christ? –to e’en a Jew, she dares!
Now, in thy terror, own my right to rule above them all!
Alone I rest; except this pile, I leave no single hall.
Yet I destroy to build anew, and Rome shall fairer shine—
But out my guards and slay the dolts who thought me not divine.
The stiffness, hate! Annihilate! Make ruin all complete—
And, slaves, bring in fresh rose. What odour is more sweet?

Nero rebuilt Rome with its grand palaces, well-planned roads and beautiful parks and pleasure gardens. He rebuilt huge residential areas in the city at his own expense. He did his best to regain popular esteem, but failed. Meantime, there were other serious developments generating great popular discontent. Ultimately, his remorse was so great that on June 8, 68 AD he committed suicide. His last utterance was said to be:  Qualis  artifex pereo  (What an artist the world loses in me)!

But our Neros are not so fragile in their hearts and minds that they should experience any real remorse though some of them have verbally expressed regret for what happened in Gujarat five years ago. They have also engaged themselves in rebuilding activities but only on paper. They did claim, on paper, that their India was shining.

Unlike our Neros, the Roman Nero was a much better poet. In 1998, a German scholar, Christoph Schubert published his doctoral dissertation Studien zum Nerobild in der lateinichen Dichtung der Antike Beitiuge zur Altertumskunde. Thus our Neros are sans the talents and qualities that Roman Nero possessed. Consequently, they are much more frightening and ugly.

     E-mail: gmishra@girishmishra.com

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