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It's like being stuck in a bad Hindi film. The rhetoric, the invective, the insults, the platitudes are all sickeningly familiar. Even the characters are the same, sorry lot.
Frankly, blaming the Senas (Shiv or Maharashtra Navnirman) for the current mess in Maharashtra would be a cop-out. One does not expect any different or better from them, nor are they going to suddenly turn into champions of freespeech. The BJP-RSS, with Bihar elections in mind, may have dissociated themselves from the Shiv Sena on the issue of "Mumbai for Mumbaikars" now (after being complicit in Shiv Sena's vocal hate speech for years), but the bone of contention this time around is not just about outsiders.
It is pure and simple about freedom of expression.
Not that the Congress-NCP has a great track-record when it comes to freespeech: be it in the matter of Mee Nathruam Bolte, James Laine or Taslima Nasreen. But because this lot pretends to be secular and liberal and claims to uphold the 'idea of India' and is generally busy acting holier-than-thou, it needs to be said that the Congress - with its ally NCP - shares the bulk of responsibility for the mess the city of Mumbai finds itself in.
The Congress did not just play Frankenstein to the monster of Bhindrawale in Punjab. Before that, in Maharashtra, it first allowed Uncle Thackeray to thrive, creating a cult borne out of narrow-mindedness, parochialism, petty grievances, paranoia and fear-psychosis and then happily stood on the sidelines while the Nephew reprised the act decades later, creating a similar diversion with sheer mob-power, hooliganism, gundaagardi and street-level thuggery, secure that it would reap the electoral dividends of a fractured polity.
In between, of course were minor details such as not acting when it should and could have simply stepped in to squash strong-arm tactics. Instead of firmly ensuring that the law of the land was implemented, it has been cynically playing electoral politics. In the long laundry list of the grand old party's sins of omission and commission would glaringly rank its total inaction on the Justice Srikrishna report. By not even attempting to bring the known culprits to book, it added to the disillusionment and cynicism and oversaw a total collapse of law and order. Which accounts for the fear that grips the theatre owners and the like when it comes to a "law and order" issue. Because they know the criminals get away with impunity,
And, of course, the fact that the Cong-NCP has been busy co-opting the Sena agenda, and its discarded lumpen over the years, is no comfort.
Yes, Shah Rukh Khan deserves total support in his right to express himself -- even if one disagrees with him on the specifics of what a great neighbour Pakistan is -- but it is ironical -- it would be comical if it weren't so sickening -- to see it come from the likes of Sanjay Nirupam, a sainik once, a Congress lackey now. Does anyone remember the leader - at least great defender - of the pack that went mooning in front of Dilip Kumar's house when he accepted the Nishan-e-Pakistan?
It is of course wrong to single out Nirupam. After all everyone deserves a chance to turn over a new leaf. But the real trouble is that the rebel sainiks who now infest the Maharashtra Congress - and the NCP - as its guardian angels - the Narayan Ranes and the Chhagan Bhujbals - and the "big city-small incidents" RR Patils and "cabbies must know Marathi" Ashok Chavans do not inspire any confidence in implementing the law of the land. And they had remained pretty much silent till Rahul Gandhi jumped into the fray and thus invited jibes -- and threats -- from the Thackeray father and son.
And of course we have the complicity of the biggest Mumbai icon and the silence that his clout engenders. Come to think of it, I am not sure what is worse -- that the Congress-NCP is so hypocritical when it says it supports SRK/freespeech or the silence of the lot taking their cues from one who is busy arranging private screenings for the likes of Narendra Modi (only for tax exemption, we are told) and in the middle of all this finds it necessary to let his fans know:
Uddhav Thakeray calls. he has just come out of the theatre after ‘Rann’ and is not able to find appropriate words to describe his appreciation for the film and the performance. Minutes later Bala Saheb calls. ‘I want to see this film. Come and show it to me !’ ‘You have not been to see me for a long time !’
I assure him I shall arrange a projection in his house. I ask after his health. He is fine he says.
He cannot travel out due to his frail condition, but the fire in him still burns. He is resolute and firm as ever and in that resoluteness you discover an endearing, that sudden soft moment, which has always made his presence so strong and affectionate. His sense of humor is in tact as he punches in some wise ones !!
Little wonder that SRK would not find many supporters from the film industry and feels pressured enough to confess: "But sometimes I get scared. It is not nice for a Hindi film hero who is thought of as an icon to say this but the stakes are very high”. He was of course talking about the commercial stakes of the film-makers and investors. At stake also is something that is even more important -- is Mumbai going to be once again a civilised society where the writ of the law of the land runs or will it always stay in the grips of any hoodlum who can issue an ultimatum and bully his way through on the threat of wreaking violence?
(Mrs Bachchan, on her part, when asked, said that she too pretty much had to fight a lonely battle when Nephew Thackeray had gone after her for pointedly speaking in Hindi at a function)
The difference this time though is that the Sena guns have come to be trained on the man the Thackerays call "the Congress prince". If nothing else, sycophancy might make the state's moribund administration act.
L'affaire Mutalik brings us to the issue of how much coverage for incidents like this. Also, is the media willingly or unwittingly turning into a PR wing of such ragtag vigilante groups? Is media's over-enthusiasm proving totally counter-productive? The media, in all sincerity, should come up with a policy prescription for itself to ensure that its coverage does not achieve the exact opposite of what it intends to establish. After all, this year's Valentine's Day was the least colourful in recent times and strangely, the media ensured that it was so. Ironically, the media outdid Mutalik in this endeavour.
There is another deeper media issue involved in the Mangalore pub attack-coverage. Why was the media, the more sedate and supposedly more balanced print media included, utterly disinclined to inform the readers about Ram Sena's antecedents and its running battle with the Sangh Pariwar? Also, the media chose to ignore the fact that there were some local Congressmen among the Ramsena funders. Questions like whether Mutalik was deliberately being modelled into a Hindu Bhindranwale to embarras an unfriendly dispensation at Bengaluru, just as a similar exercise is on to establish Raj Thackeray as the real representative of Maharashtra pride, have never been probed by the media. Ram Sena's run-ins with RSS are only too well-known even to the general public in Mangalore. Why did the media fail to see the obvious? Is there a deeper and hidden agenda?