Yet another chapati mystery. That's what the latest controversy would have been reduced to, going by the various versions on offer from different Shiv Sena spokespeople, but unlike the 19th century we have a reasonably self-explanatory video recording to tell us what exactly happened.
Thanks to the video having gone viral, we do know now that the Shiv Sena MP from Thane tried to rudely stuff a (badly cooked, from all accounts) chapati into the mouth of a canteen supervisor who was in charge of the catering at Maharashtra Sadan.
There seems no doubt also about the fact that the Shiv Sainiks
From it never happened, to why rake up something minor that happened way back in the past, to it was a minor, localised scuffle because of legitimate anger at the bad quality of food, so why "needlessly communalise" the issue, when we did not even know that the man was a Muslim, and even if he was all Muslims do not keep rozas, and even if he was keeping a roza, the fast is not broken because of force-feeding, and we stopped when we got to know he was fasting, and much else besides, we have covered more versions than could be conceived of by Kurosawa for Rashomon.
But even if we grant the claims made by the Shiv Sena MP that he did not know the religion of the person, is it too much to ask for a simple, unconditional apology? Clearly it is. For perhaps it is too much to ask this of elected representatives of a political party when they happen to be Shiv Sainiks.
Which is why, instead of an apology from this particular MP and others who were there with him, neither to the person who was humiliated, nor to many others who feel extremely disturbed by their conduct, we have had all manner of rationalisations, and bluster. Sample these:
“Even after spending a huge amount, there is no 'Maharashtra'' and 'Marathiness' in the Maharashtra Sadan at Delhi. Marathi people cannot walk in with pride. It is the history that Maharashtrians are always insulted in Delhi. If we are going to get insulting treatment even after spending so much amount, then anyone would get fury and so did we.
"The media who were heating up the issue and the parliamentarians who were raising voices can see our act, but they don't see that the rape of a 10-year-old girl by the 'maulavi' of a mosque in Afghanistan, that too in the auspicious month of Ramzan. Neither the media is speaking about this issue, nor it is being raised in the parliament. Recently, a Muslim teacher in Bangalore raped a small girl in the school even after having roza, but media is not speaking about this. This simply shows that the rape is okay, but not the chapati feeding."
--Editorial in Saamna, reported in DNA“This is just like Godhra. Everyone forgot Godhra but only remembered what happened after that. Here too, everyone is talking about the incident by noone is bothered about why it happened.”
--Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul, Indian Express
Shiv Sena's alliance partner, in Maharashtra and at the centre, the party with a difference, has decided to treat the outrage with a deafening silence of the tweets. Perhaps it is time to remind the BJP of their words, that they won a mandate to govern this country on the plank of inclusive development (sabka saath, sabka vikas). Reams were written about how BJP’s idea of India is not different from the Constitution, that it will protect and uphold the dignity and liberty of every citizen of this country. That promise is increasingly looking hollow with each passing day.
There is still no unambiguous condemnation nor has any leader of any standing at least said that what happened was clearly wrong. Prevaricating on the issue, it has tried to tell us not to see the issue through a communal prism. Given the history of the Sena and given the fact that a chapati was thrust into the mouth of someone whose name tag was visible, identifying him as Muslim, who clearly protested and pointed out that he was fasting, it is difficult to not see it as a communal incident. If something as brazenly fanatic as forcing a Muslim to break his fast is not communal, then we perhaps need to ask: What is?
But let us go back to the Saamna editorial, as reported today in the Indian Express:
“It was not written on the man’s forehead which religion, caste or creed he belonged too. He turned out to be a Muslim. We came to know that he was observing his fast and reports started spreading that the Sainiks tried to break the fast of a Muslim,”
--Saamna, editorial, reported in Indian Express
So, for a moment let us again grant them that this might not have been a communal issue. Perhaps it just happened in the heat of the moment, as many other versions go. But still, how does one explain the conduct of one of the BJP MPs from Delhi, marching into the well of House and yelling at a Muslim MP to go to Pakistan? Is this also not communal? Add to this the recent aspersions cast on the patriotism of sporting icon Sania Mirza, yet again from a BJP MLA from Telangana. And remember the studied silence on the lynching of a Muslim youth in Pune by a bunch of Hindu fanatics? Let us not even go to the interview of VHP president Ashok Singhal recently, or what various Goa ministers have been saying about Hindu rashtra.
Granted that some muted voices have been raised in defence of Sania Mirza, but is it not disgraceful that the violence has not been outrightly condemned by the party in power? Instead, what we have heard are variations on the Shiv Sena dissimulations: counter questions about real and perceived crimes by the Muslims. Seasoned BJP leaders have gone so far as to comment on TV that Muslims do not speak up against atrocities on Kashmiri pundits and do not condemn what is wrong within their own community. This is simply preposterous: Many Muslims have in fact strongly condemned these incidents but somehow the BJP only hears and sees what it wants to.
But even if we concede that there is a grain of truth in these allegations, we are only back to what may be called the old tactics of whataboutery (What about 1984? What about Kashmiri Pandits? What about Shah Bano? What about Salman Rushdie?) to deflect attention from the issue at hand. And this is what is most disturbing: that there seems to be no need to address the question of symbolic and physical violence against Muslims, whether very real (as in Pune and Muzaffarnagar; or at least strongly perceived, as in Maharashtra Sadan).
It is this failure to roundly condemn such an outrage that leads one to question their intentions. Drunk on immunity which successive and different governments have given them in Maharashtra, a generation of Sena leaders have made their career out of anti Muslim hatred. But hatred also needs to be communicated to a wider audience and given the Sena history and recent pattern of polarising the voters, most notably in Uttar Pradesh, there is plenty of speculation around that it was this that was at work that day at Maharsahtra Sadan. Given the prevarications, the question is bound to be asked: Was this an orchestrated move to send a message to their Hindutva loving constituency in Maharashtra?
Remember the mad rush to polarize people in Uttar Pradesh by using a dispute over use of loudspeakers? Could this be premeditated targeting, with the message being that Muslims have been shown their place? Unfortunately, this has worked many a times with the voters, most recently in Muzaffarnagar, where the local Jat population caught the fancy of BJP’ s idea of teaching Muslims a lesson. All of this is leading many to worry that a similar strategy could be at work yet again.
It is time to remind the BJP, and its supreme leader, of another slogan they love to use: "justice for all and appeasement for none". Where's the justice? Who is being appeased?
Having made Muslims largely irrelevant to their electoral future, the BJP still has a choice: either to consolidate its strength by taking along diverse ideas and practices or to walk on an exclusionary path and create a hate filled, insular new normality. So far, it has repeatedly insisted that it is for a composite India. But increasingly, their silence on issues which threaten this very idea of unity in diversity is highly distressing, and only encourages speculation and fear-psychosis of something sinister being planned. One simple way to reassure the people of this country would be to forcefully condemn the thuggish act of Shiv Sena MPs at Maharashtra Sadan. Unless that happens, their studied silence would only be read as complicit silence.
And that silence gets further magnified and deafening when the minister in charge of minority affairs, Najma Heptullah, when asked to comment on the incident, only runs off saying ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing’.