Some years back there was much mirth in New Delhi’s Shastri Bhawan when an official of the Press Information Bureau marked “for special attention of the minister” a Colombo-datelined news item captioned ‘Three Tigers Killed’ ~ it had referred to an operation against activists of the LTTE.

Mrs Maneka Gandhi has since graduated from handling the environment and forests portfolio to women and child development, but her passion for wildlife has not diminished, she has just exhibited rare political courage to join issue with a stalwart from her own party’s ranks. Not only did she flay the seemingly wanton killing of the tigress Avni by reckless personnel of the Maharashtra government, she has now demanded that the chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, ensure effective action to preserve the lives of Avni’s two cubs that appear to be endangered.

Mrs Gandhi followed up her sharp letter to the chief minister with a telephone call ~ alas, no positive outcome has been reported thus far. “We had sent a team of NGOs to Yavatmal recently and found that no attempts were being made to catch the cubs.” The NGOs, she said, “were told by the villagers that they had been advised not to catch them until they died, or to see that they were killed”. She asked the state government to “get teams of veterinarians and forest people from outside”, and made some specific suggestions in that regard.

That scathing indictment of the state government has been endorsed by several wildlife enthusiasts and experts. It is a sad reflection on Mrs Gandhi’s ministerial colleagues that they have opted for craven silence rather than exert pressure on the state government. Particularly at a point in time when the threat to wildlife has re-assumed worrisome proportions. One inevitable conclusion is that with election fever rising, the BJP’s preoccupation with mustering votes will dilute attention and commitment to other manifestations of good governance.

Conservation is getting short shrift ~ as is the Centre’s indifference to toxic air quality in the national capital and adjoining areas. In such a politically-poisoned atmosphere the interests of flora and fauna count for little. At the best of times wildlife has received limited priority, and with the possible exception of Mrs Gandhi it finds no official mention in the NDA lexicon.

Fate has a curious way of turning full circle. In 1972 if was Indira Gandhi who initiated a revival of the big cats’ fortunes with the launch of Project Tiger ~ the internationally acclaimed conservation effort which protected all wildlife since it hailed the tiger as being the apex of an eco-system.

Now it is her estranged daughter-in-law who is emerging as the second saviour of “stripes”. Wonder if the Indira connection is at the root of the BJP’s tepid response to the tiger’s travails? After all, Childrens’ Day has been downgraded because it is celebrated on Nehru’s birthday.