By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
This article, written on Friday morning, was published on today’s Kathanndu Post. Correction: Mumbai attack happened in 2008, not in 09 as mistakenly mentioned in the article
There are not many similarities between Ajmal Kasab and Bal Thackeray. The former is the lone survivor of the 26/11/08 Mumbai attack who took part in a carnage that killed dozens of innocent citizens. The latter is a fascist political leader of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, who has been doing hate politics for the past 50 years. Both, in their own ways, are serious threats to peace and harmony in Indian society. There could be other similarities too, but a major difference between the two is also a major headache for India.
While Kasab is inside the heavily fortified Arthur Road jail and faces trial in court, Thackeray is in his Matoshree house that is well protected by government police and issues threats to luminaries of India. A top police officer of Mumbai remarked on Thursday evening that it was easier to deal with the underworld than with politicians like Thackeray, his son Uddav and nephew Raj. You can easily kill a terrorist, an underworld don or his agent in some encounters or meticulously planned intelligence operations that can involve rival underworld dons and the busy streets of a foreign capital. But to get rid of a virus like Thackeray is not an easy job.
That is why, surprisingly, Ashok Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, is facing ire from a section of the media for mishandling the latest controversy that involves Bal and Uddav Thackeray, dons of a right-wing “political party” Shiv Sena, issuing threats to Shah Rukh Khan and his latest release My Name Is Khan. The question here is: Do Indians have the freedom of expression? The constitution says yes, but in practice that is decided by extra-constitutional figures like Bal. They say who can speak what and when. As they do that and run a parallel unconstitutional administration, the real and constitutional, let me mention, nuclear-powered Indian state becomes a so helpless and mute spectator that sometime it’s difficult to believe it.
As India is progressing impressively and helping millions of people to get out of poverty, it is also fighting multiple wars. The demands for separate states from all over the country is no less challenging than the spreading Maoist revolution in the hinterlands. There are other challenges too: countering terrorism, fighting corruption, curbing inflation and controlling crime. So where do the Thackerays and their hate politics come in the list?
“Hate is a commodity that has always sold like hot cakes in certain quarters in India,” observed filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt who has tried to counter the Shiv Sena in the past.
The politics of hate is not a challenge for India only. It’s a common phenomenon in South Asia where a president, immediately after his re-election, jails his opponent; a king expels tens of thousands of his citizens from their country; a party just out of civil war abducts people it doesn’t like and kills them in guerrilla cantonments. The governments and societies in all the countries have failed to counter such tactics of politicians.
In Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra, theatre owners couldn’t trust their government for security against possible vandalism by the Shiv Sena and shamefully opted out from full-fledged release of My Name Is Khan. One of the biggest releases from Bollywood can’t be shown in Bollywood itself. There cannot be a bigger irony.
The commercial capital of South Asia struggles to provide a favourable environment for businesses. Mumbai is not just a commercially important city to India. It is a city where every Indian dreams to become successful. Shah Rukh Khan himself has credited his success to the city, and rightly so. Expressing sorrow over the turmoil in the city leading up to the Shiv Sena mayhem against him, Khan twittered from Germany, “Whatever the fate of the film, never wished this upon the city that made my dreams come true & gave me all. I belong to you.”
The city is immensely rich by Indian standards and generates a lot of employment for which hundreds of thousands of people from across the northern and southern belts go there. It’s so big that it welcomes all and provides them with a livelihood: from a migrant taxi driver to the likes of Khan who went to Mumbai from his city Delhi to pursue his dream. The Shiv Sena and its splinter Maharashtra Navnirman Sena exploit the very welcoming nature and magnanimity of the city to fulfil their petty politics of hate.
It will be interesting to see how this fight ends. Civil society is slowly challenging the goondaraj of the Thackerays by encouraging people to go to the movies. In this case, that’s the best way to counter the Sena: non-violent and fashionable and fruitful to everyone involved in the making of the movie. It’s certainly difficult for a loosely connected network of civil society to fight an organised gang with full-time thugs — some of whom have become speaker of the Indian parliament unfortunately. But one thing that is certain is that My Name Is Khan is not just a movie for peace loving Indians. It is an opportunity to defeat the Sena and similar forces in other parts of India without resorting to violence. The Sena can be peacefully knocked down in its own bastion by just watching a movie.
Earlier articles/blogs on My Name is Khan and Shiv Sena