FOR a novice politician from one of India’s smallest and most remote states, Biblap Deb has made a big name for himself. Since assuming the leadership of Tripura (population 4m) in March, Mr Deb—who belongs to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—has so often hit national headlines that journalists now hang on his every word. Alas this is not because of bold new policies, but rather the silly things he says.
Earlier this month Mr Deb told some computer trainees they should be proud that Indians invented high-tech communications “lakhs of years ago“ (a lakh is 100,000). Drawing on a passage in the Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu epic, he asked how Sanjaya the charioteer could have relayed a blow-by-blow account of the progress of the battle of Kurukshetra to his master, the blind King Dhritarashtra, without internet and satellite links (the scene is pictured).
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Scarcely had a storm of social-media ridicule died down before Mr Deb stirred it again with some impromptu remarks on beauty pageants. He lamented the victory of an Indian woman in the Miss World contest of 1997 who, he suggested, failed to match classical ideals of feminine beauty as represented by Laxmi and Saraswati—the goddesses of wealth and wisdom. (Women should eschew make-up and bathe in mud, he said.) Soon after apologising for that, Mr Deb was back to gaffe-making. Most recently he has threatened that his critics should have their nails cut off, because they are like people who spoil vegetables in the market by poking at them.
Numerous higher-ranking members of his party have had similar lapses. Earlier this year Satyapal Singh, India’s minister of state for human resources, declared that the theory of evolution was “scientifically wrong” because no one had ever witnessed an ape turning into a man. Mr Singh has also said that students should be taught that a Vedic scholar called Shivkar Babuji Talpade invented a flying machine eight years before the Wright Brothers. Narendra Modi, the prime minister, says his party’s politicians should cease to “give masala to the media” with such utterances. But Mr Modi himself has form. Before he became prime minister, he suggested that the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha furnished proof that ancient Indians had invented plastic surgery.