you think outfits like Shiv Sena couldn’t get any more disingenuous
and meaner, they come up with more of the same. After all, for
nearly five decades Sena has done nothing but spewed sweetness and
light and you would think it had squeezed the last drops of
political mileage out of spreading all round cheer and goodness.
around though, it seems Sena and its rabble-rousing chief Bal
Thackeray have finally swallowed more than they could chew.
years, Sena has fed and grown on divisive and subversive politics.
targeting poor south Indians or the Madrasis as they are
contemptuously called to attacking Muslims as “traitors and
Pakistani agents”, Shiv Sena has swelled and expanded its ranks the
way all such outfits do — by preying and playing on people’s deepest
insecurities and complexes.
north Indian “bhayyas” or people from the Hindi heartland of Bihar
and Uttar Pradesh have been the target of Sena’s campaign. From
bashing up the north Indian youths appearing for job interviews and
tests in Mumbai to attacking poor cabbies from small towns and
villages working the city’s crowded streets, Shiv Sena has not just
terrorized the city but has held the whole of India hostage to its
deal has been said about Mumbai’s infamous underworld and its
stranglehold over the nation’s financial and cultural capital. But
indeed it is Shiv Sena — and now its other franchise headed by Bal
Thackeray’s nephew Raj Thackeray — that rules Mumbai’s streets. For
years, from Bollywood’s most popular Khans to the powerful
industrialists and billionaires, just about everybody who’s somebody
has been cowering in their pants and paying obeisance to the deity
at Matoshri from time to time.
could survive in Mumbai by getting on the wrong side of the Sena.
Ramgopal Verma captured it rather well in his dark and brooding
blockbuster, “Sarkar”, even though one couldn’t quite accept the
redoubtable Amitabh Bachchan in Thackeray’s avatar. Big B succeeds
in conveying the quiet menace of his character in his measure style,
even glamorizing the legend of Thackeray in the process.
there have been increasing signs that Mumbai, one of the greatest
and most vibrant cities, wants to move on. It is showing signs of
revolt against the kind of venomous politics the Sena and its allies
have been playing all these years. This week, Mumbai and India sent
a loud and clear message to the Thackerays, and everyone else who
cared to pay attention, that they aren’t prepared to take any more
baloney in the name of Marathi people and the so-called son of the
Sena’s tyranny is being challenged by Mumbai wallahs and ordinary
Indians on two fronts: Its campaign against the so-called outsiders
and its endless bashing of Muslims and Pakistan.
this changing mood that may have emboldened and encouraged Bollywood
megastar Shah Rukh Khan and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to defy the
Sena toughies. It was curiously uplifting to see Shah Rukh stiffen
his spine and stand up to the terror tactics of the Thackerays.
refusing to eat his words criticizing the exclusion of Pakistani
cricketers in the Indian Premier League matches, Shah Rukh may have
made up for the moral spinelessness of the world’s biggest film
industry all these years. The actor refused to give in and go down
on his knees, as many before him repeatedly have, even when the Sena
threatened to prevent the screening of his much-awaited movie, “My
Name is Khan”. (As I write this, there are reports of Sena
vandalizing cinemas across the state.)
part, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the nation’s most celebrated
political dynasty and probably future leader of the world’s largest
democracy, showed rare political and moral courage that has been
lacking in the governing Congress for some time. Rahul not just took
on the Sena for its campaign against north Indians by declaring that
every inch of India belongs to all Indians but he traveled to Mumbai
to take the local train to Dadar, right into the heart of Sena
simple, ordinary guy confronting neighborhood bully in a Bollywood
production, Rahul defied and vanquished the Sena in a manner not
seen in years. Am I being sentimental here? Maybe. Perhaps, it was a
routine populist gesture — the kind that comes naturally to our
politicians. But there was something quintessentially Gandhian about
Rahul taking that trip in the face of threats and dire warnings and
peacefully but resolutely confronting the folks who only speak and
understand the language of violence and force.
the way to go. If India has to attain the heights of greatness that
it aspires to and deserves to achieve, it can do so only by
following in the footsteps of Gandhi and other visionaries of modern
India. If India is respected and admired around the world, it’s
because of emulating that vision, not because of the hate-fueled
politics as practiced by outfits like Shiv Sena, a party that has
been repeatedly snubbed by the voters.
wants to move on. In fact, it has already moved on from the poisoned
temple-mosque politics of the 1980s and 1990s. It is evident in the
decline of parties like Shiv Sena, BJP and others. This may be why
even BJP and its ideological parent RSS have criticized Thackeray,
their ally and fellow traveler for years. This may be bad news for
the Hindutva alliance but it augurs well for India and its rich,
diverse and pluralist society.
progressive decline of the United States, China and India are being
seen around the world as the next superpower. While China’s pace of
growth is far more consistent, I believe it’s India that is more
qualified and deserves to be the next world leader. With its stable
democratic institutions, genuinely independent judiciary and media
and a healthy civil society, India is best prepared to take over the
mantle of global leadership from America.
has come this far and enjoys the eminence of global leadership not
because of its military or economic might but because of its
democratic institutions and welcoming nature of its multicultural
society. If America is where it finds itself today, it is because it
has constantly welcomed dreamers and go-getters and enterprising,
talented and hard working people from around the world.
nation of immigrants and its doors have always remained open for
everyone who wants a slice of American pie. It matters not where you
come from or who you are. What matters is what you can bring to the
table and how you can contribute. This is the secret of American
dream. If India has to be a world leader like America, it can do so
only by preserving and promoting its all-welcoming, all-embracing
culture and attitude, an India where everyone gets his or her due
Indians find themselves unwelcome in their own country in cities
like Mumbai, how can this amazing country ever hope to touch the
heights of greatness that it seeks to touch? Future belongs to the
India of Rahul Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar, and not
to the banana republic that parties like Sena want to make out of
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based
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