By Swapan Dasgupta
Those who have watched the 2002 TV production of James Hilton’s celebrated Goodbye, Mr Chips may recall a scene where Chips, now the Headmaster of Brookfield, reads out the names of those teachers and old boys who had fallen in the battles of the Great War. When he announces the name of Max Staefel, a close friend who taught German in less troubled times, a murmur of dissatisfaction runs through the Assembly: Staefel was German and had died fighting for the ‘other side’. Chips pauses, looks directly at the boys and utters a memorable line: “A man is not a country.”
I don’t know if the ability to distinguish between an individual and his nationality or, for that matter, a man and his religion, is one of the attributes of the Shiv Sena. Probably not. What else can explain its rigid determination to make a huge issue of a possible participation by individual Pakistani cricketers in the IPL tournament? Mercifully, it won’t come to that because the hyper-sensitive authorities in Pakistan have announced that they will not permit their cricketers to play the T-20 pyjama cricket.
Of course the Shiv Sena isn’t content with merely threatening Pakistanis. It has, for very different reasons, decided to target any celebrity who has the gumption to proffer opinions different from its narrow-minded politics. Shahrukh Khan has been threatened for regretting the absence of Pakistanis from his Kolkata Knight Riders team. Sena activists have warned cinema halls to not screen his new film My Name is Khan. Mukesh Ambani has been told that he is unfaithful to Mumbai because he believes in an overriding Indian identity. Earlier, Sachin Tendulkar was attacked for a similar pronouncement. And, even earlier, there was all that fuss over the rise in the number of Chhat pujas in Mumbai.
To only blame the Shiv Sena, or its estranged cousin Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, for injecting intolerance into Mumbai is to exonerate another culprit. The State Congress played an equally cynical game by attempting to impose a language test on aspiring taxi drivers. It was apparent to everyone, not least the Congress high command, that this was Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s way of getting a slice of the Marathi manoos constituency.
Yet, it is undeniable that it is the Sena and its offshoot that are primarily responsible. The Sena parivar appears to be hell bent on pursuing the politics of notoriety. Shahrukh wasn’t the only person who expressed his regret at the exclusion of players from Pakistan in this year’s IPL. Even Home Minister P Chidambaram, who has even confessed to being a cricket fan, has stated his unhappiness — though, I suspect, the IPL authorities wouldn’t have imposed their informal ban without some sort of signal from the Government of India. So why single out Shahrukh?
The charitable explanation is that Shahrukh is a celebrity and targeting him is calculated to spread the Sena message without any effort. Amitabh Bachchan was similarly pilloried when he did those unfortunate pre-election Uttar Pradesh promotion films for Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Big B has subsequently emerged as a brand ambassador for tourism in Gujarat. Mercifully, the Sena didn’t think that celebrating the salt dunes of the Rann of Kutch is an insult to the Marathi manoos.
Shahrukh has been targeted because he bears a Muslim name. There is no other explanation. I am aware that the charge of communalism has often been bandied about very casually, not least by those who imagine that criticism of Pakistan is tantamount to attacking all Muslims. On this occasion, however, the ‘communal’ charge is justified. The Shiv Sena is exposing its intolerance.
The recent behaviour of the Sena raises uncomfortable questions for its alliance partner. Among the features of the BJP were its insistence that India is one country and that there should be “justice for all and appeasement of none”. It has rightly been critical of job reservations on the basis of religion and has steadfastly opposed the ‘special status’ of Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370. Yet, it has been paralysed into silence by the antics of its long-time alliance partner. Even the RSS has remained a mute spectator to the Sena parivar’s shenanigans.
What the Shiv Sena is in effect demanding is an Article 370 for Maharashtra that would confer exceptional rights on ‘State subjects’ and deny these to others who would presumably be categorised ‘guest workers’. Apart from the sheer insanity of distorting the momentum of India’s business capital — whose beneficial fallout also touches the Marathi manoos — the Shiv Sena has now begun to question the primacy of Indian citizenship. In effect, the Sena is demanding a two-tiered sovereignty for Maharashtra, a demand that is qualitatively little different from the demand for ‘dual sovereignty’ in Jammu & Kashmir. Has Uddhav Thackeray and his cousin weighed the implications of what they have undertaken? Do they realise the chaos if every second State presses for exclusionary laws?
It is time the BJP considered the implications of associating with a party that seems hell-bent on fracturing Indian nationhood. The muscle-flexing of the Sena has gone unchallenged and unquestioned for too long. If the BJP doesn’t want to stand up and be counted, it may as well proclaim that all that lofty talk of idealism and ideology is pure humbug.
As for the Shiv Sena, it should realise that Shivaji didn’t proclaim himself the King of the Deccan; he was anointed the Hindu Maharaj; his kingdom was the Hindu pad padshahi. The Sena is ensuring that Shivaji’s grand canopy is shrunk to the size of a handkerchief.