I thought of Narendra Modi when I read about the row over Sarah Palin’s Facebook post of Trig, her six-year-old, stepping on the family dog to reach the kitchen sink. (For context, the child has Down’s Syndrome and Ms Palin’s original Facebook comment was the sort of anodyne, vaguely uplifting wish that is spread trowel-thick on social media in the holiday season. “May 2015 see every stumbling block turned into a stepping stone on the path forward,” Ms Palin wrote. She probably thought it a good idea to illustrate the message with Trig bravely stepping on the dog “on the path forward”. Onwards and upwards, especially for a child with special needs and a dog named Jill Hadassah (honestly, Ms Palin and her family seem to have a talent for choosing the most unusual names for animals and people).
PETA, the animal right’ campaigner, wasn’t amused. Or heartened. On Friday, it said in a statement that Ms Palin had “no apparent sympathy for the dog” and that the organization “along with everyone else, is used to the hard-hearted, seeming obliviousness of this bizarrely callous woman.”
This was contradictory, of course, because if PETA was used to Ms Palin’s callousness, it’s hard to understand why it thought the issue worthy of comment. But on to Mr Modi and dogs.
Remember when the then Gujarat chief minister used a puppy analogy while referring to the deaths of Muslims in his state in the 2002 riots? It was back in July 2013 that Mr Modi told Reuters: “Even If I am in the back seat of a car and a puppy (kutte ka bachcha) comes under the wheels, isn’t it painful? It is. Whether I am a chief minister or not, I am a human being – I will be sad if something bad happens anywhere.”
There was a storm of protest that he appeared to be comparing a whole community to dogs. (If I remember right, PETA didn’t react.) But it was a good illustration of how it’s generally bad news for politicians, to bring animals into the equation when making public comments. In 2007, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was criticized after his son recounted that Mr Romney strapped the family’s Irish Setter to the car roof during road trips. It didn’t help Mr Romney’s bid for the White House.