03 February 2010

Can Chidambaram pass the Thackeray test?

The Centre and the Maharashtra government must make it clear to the Shiv Sena that they will not be allowed to threaten Shah Rukh Khan with violence...

3 February 2010
The Hindu

Can the idea of India pass the Thackeray test?

Siddharth Varadarajan

Now that he has come up with a radical plan for overhauling the country’s capacity to deal with terrorism and other threats to its national security, P. Chidambaram must turn his attention to a problem that none of his predecessors in the Union Home Ministry ever had the courage to deal with: putting goondas in their place.

The task is urgent and brooks no delay. After sparring with Shah Rukh Khan for several days over the Bollywood actor’s statement regretting the absence of Pakistani players in the forthcoming IPL cricket tournament and declaring that Mumbai belongs to all Indians and not just Maharashtrians, the Shiv Sena has now come up with an ultimatum: Mr. Khan must apologise or else the party will not allow his films to be shown in the city, India’s commercial capital.

For me, this contest is as nerve-wracking and stomach churning as any the IPL could throw up. Will this political tournament end with the jailing and prosecution of the Shiv Sena’s leaders and goons who are conspiring to vandalise cinema halls and beat up those who defy this ban? Or will it end with the desolate spectacle of an isolated Shah Rukh being forced to surrender before the ridiculous diktat of the Shiv Sainiks — the way dozens of artists, actors, musicians and politicians have done over the past two decades in the face of the cowardice of policemen, ministers and judges who refused to defend the rule of law?

Well placed to influence

As Union Home Minister, Mr. Chidambaram may lack direct authority to ensure either outcome in Mumbai. But with Maharashtra ruled by the Congress in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party, he is certainly well placed to influence what happens next. And he has a moral and intellectual responsibility as well since he shares the actor's views. Asked last week by reporters for his opinion about the exclusion of the Pakistani cricketers by the IPL, the minister echoed Shah Rukh Khan in saying it was a “disservice to cricket that some of these players were not picked.” As for the status of Mumbai, Mr. Chidambaram described the ‘Maharashtrians only’ thesis of the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena as “pernicious.”

In the face of the Shiv Sena’s latest ultimatum, delivered by no less a person than Manohar Joshi, Mr. Chidambaram should remind the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha about the rights the Indian Constitution guarantees its citizens. And he should publicly declare that not only will the Shiv Sena’s goondas and leaders be prevented from disrupting the screening of My Name is Khan in Mumbai but that he himself intends to be present at the film’s first screening in the city.

A price Shiv Sena must pay

The Shiv Sena may be a recognised political party with an electoral presence at the state and central level but there is a price it must pay for being part of a democratic system. That price is fidelity to the rule of law and the principle of equality that is a basic feature of the Indian Constitution. For years, this party and its leader, Bal Thackeray, have tested the limits of the law by threatening and often actually unleashing violence on political opponents, trades unionists, religious and linguistic minorities and cultural personalities. Each time, the Indian system has proved too weak to defend the law.

When confronted by the mob power of the Shiv Sena, MNS or other right-wing groups, the police in India invariably give in to their demands, no matter how irrational or unreasonable, and force the targets of their illegal pressure to give up their rights. So art galleries anywhere in India think once, twice and a hundred times before exhibiting a single painting by M.F. Hussain, movie hall owners agonise over whether to show ‘controversial’ films or not, screenplay writers and movie directors allow politicians, pundits, granthis and maulvis to vet their projects before they are launched, scholarly works of history are banned because their contents do not conform with the cherished hagiography of some group or sect, writers like Taslima Nasrin are hounded out of the country by mobs who claim to have been offended by books they have never read, shops fear to stock Valentine cards because of threats by self-appointed guardians of morality and ‘Indian culture’.

The intolerance of the Shiv Sena (and now the MNS) may be the most virulent and violent but it is symptomatic of a sickness that has spread to every corner of the country. Shah Rukh Khan is a cultural icon, a face that the whole world identifies as Indian. If the Shiv Sena is able to silence him or make him take back his words by threatening violence, we might as well pack up and throw away the idea of India as a land where democracy and culture flourish. So how is this contest going to end? When confronted by mobs, each and every one of his predecessors in the Home Ministry chose the path of least resistance. Mr. Chidambaram cannot afford to fail the Thackeray test.


Alaphia said...

In large parts of the world people are friendly and welcoming towards Indians because they know Bollywood. In fact, a Pakistani friend of mine went to Morocco and she said that she had to fend off the hordes that came up to her to say, "Indjian? Shah Rukh Khan? Amitabh Bachan?" I really hope the Home Ministry takes a more pro-active stand rather than hoping that this too shall blow over. Enough.

Anonymous said...

Shah Rukh Khan being a cultural icon for Indians, I am not sure about that.


Srijith Unni said...

The only way this will get addressed is if the public and common man in Mumbai unite and march towards the Collectorate and lodge a complaint. A loud non-violent protest.!

Anonymous said...

Why paint Shiv Sena and MNS with same paint? Has MNS said anything about IPL or SRK? In fact, the stand taken by MNS is vindicated by action of Union Railway minister about rights for the son of soil. MNS has always said that they are against those migrants who do not respect local culture and create menace. A well civilized person is always welcome. I dont think anyone in India or entire world with disagree with that.

Raghav said...

While I of course think that what Bal Thackeray said is despicable, I don't think we should be calling for his arrest or his prosecution on mere grounds of speech. The solution instead must be cultural - after all, what he says resonates with many people which is why we pay attention to him. Arresting him does not change that.

More importantly, arresting someone for inflammatory speeches may be legal in India, but surely progressive people that support free speech should pause to think.

We would do well to remember the famous Brandenburg vs Ohio case in the United States that has set the highest standards for free speech anywhere in the world. The ruling explicitly stresses "imminent lawless action" stating that:

"the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."

Anonymous said...

The day Stalinist yellow media propaganda puppets write about mass murder rapes and other heinous crimes against humanity committed by Stalinist and Maoist brigades is the day their writings will be taken seriously.

Until then it is just a bunch of lies and propaganda that deserves to be thrown into dustbin.

Anonymous said...

99.99% of the political violence that happens in this country is carried out by leftist groups. Compared to the scale, type of arms used, cruelty and violence of these Marxist/Maoist gangs, what Thackeray & Co. do is like children playing with fire crackers.

Yet Mr. Varadarajan spends all his time worrying about Shiv Sena.

And his family controlled Hindu is no better - it tries to suppress the truth by referring to those that attacked Mr. Mutalik as 'members of a national party' - when practically every other daily named them as Congress workers. On the contrary there is no such ambiguity when it comes to naming Shiv Sena and others.

Why? Firstly it makes it look as if only Sena indulges in violence when it is a part and parcel of Indian political life.

Secondly, Because the Stalinists are begging the Congress to let them get back into their good books, desperate about losing WB elections even after pulling stunts like quota for Muslims etc. Deccan Herald has a nice article on this today.

Perhaps Bejing too is upset that the Marxists gave up their leverage on the MMS regime for nothing and is now worse off.

Smt. Sonia is smart and she will not fall for the tricks of the anti-national Marxists. But the Marxists and their propaganda brigades still try their best!

Anonymous said...

I am sure Chidambaram/Ashok Chavan passed their Thackery test to the delight of SRK and Karan. In their blind rush to pass the Thackery test, they failed the test to undertake a State's essential duty: not only to protect the celluloid industry but also to protect the lives of the less privileged: aam aadmi. I expected the superman Rahul Gandhi to visit Pune in a public transport. I am sure he would visit Pune on his way to Azamgarh.

Unnithan Nair