THE developing countries have in parochialism a menace which disrupts normal life. A small number of people take law into their hands and whip up frenzy by an appeal to divisive and communal sentiments. They not only mar the rhythm of development but also weaken the nation’s cohesion.
The Shiv Sena in Mumbai is one such organization which feels proud in sowing the seeds of separation. Its followers are like the Taliban who are less violent but equally fanatic. They have adopted Marathi, one of India’s 14 main languages, to push their agenda for a distinct identity. They openly preach Hindutva.
Therefore, it was not surprising when it picked up a Muslim for their attack which till then was confined to north Indians. The Shiv Sena asked the leading-most star, Shah Rukh Khan, to apologise for his support to Pakistan cricket players. He had regretted their absence from the Indian Premier League T20 games and wished if they had participated.
Shah Rukh stood his ground and rebuffed the Shiv Sena by not offering any regret over his observation. He had the support of the entire nation. A TV survey showed that the 94 per cent people backed him. Of course, the depressing part was the silence of most actors who were expected to speak in favour of Shah Rukh. I was not surprised by the silence of Amitabh Bachchan. He travelled all the way to Ahmedabad to show his movie to Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Gujarat carnage fame. Why the Maharashtra and the Central governments, both led by the Congress, tarried behind in taking action against the Shiv Sena was a sad commentary on the party’s secular credentials. But the electoral politics made the Congress play soft Hindutva in Gujarat as well. What woke up the Maharashtra administration was the visit by Rahul Gandhi to Mumbai. The country applauded his observation that that every part of India belonged to every Indian. He literally bearded Shiv Sena in its den, much to the humiliation of its chief Bal Thackery. It is having its revenge on hapless theatres and viewers for Shah Raukh Khan’s movie.
Arousing anti-Pakistan sentiments is a hobby-horse of the Shiv Sena. Yet it is only lunatic Indian fringe which has not reconciled to Pakistan, primarily an Islamic country. That is the reason why Shah Rukh was called “a traitor” while he repeatedly said that he was an Indian and stood for good relations with the people of Pakistan.
The anti-Pakistan feeling in India or the anti-India feeling in Pakistan is an old phenomenon which, unfortunately, has persisted despite several people-to-people contacts. Any demagogue can exploit it. Bal Thackerey in India and Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Sayeed, who organized this week a jihad meeting at Islamabad to “liberate India,” is there to stoke fires of hatred. They do not change because they earn dividends from the hostility they peddle. This means that they still find response to their hate-policies.
But I am more concerned over the attitude of young generation on both sides. I happened to watch on TV chat between youngsters of the two countries. The cricket match was between India and South Africa. But the manner in which they were using filthy language in describing leading cricket players belonging to other side was shocking. The new generation has mastered the technique of computers but not the use of civilized language. They are worse than the street urchins who have had no schooling. Yet, those who were hurling abuses on each other belonged to decent families which, I imagine, had not brought them up as goondas. May be, my presumption is wrong. Maybe, even the best of families do not mind their children using abusive language.
Partition is 62 years old. Both the Congress, representing the majority of Hindus, and the Muslim League, representing the majority of Muslims, agreed to a proposal to divide the Indian subcontinent on the basis of religion. But, at the same time, the founders of the two countries, Mahatma Gandhi and Qaide Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, told their people not to mix religion with politics. Mahatma Gandhi said he would live at Karachi and the Qaide Azam retained his Mumbai house for occasional visits. Both said that the two countries would be the best of friends. Then why are the youngsters on both sides denouncing by their action those who won them freedom?
After killing one million of each other’s and fighting four wars, people on both sides should have realized that hostilities cannot be an answer to their differences. The option of war was extinguished once the two counties went nuclear. There is no alternative to peace. The youngsters should appreciate this fact all the more because the challenge before them to is construct the country, not to destroy what has been built.
Hindus and Muslims have lived together for 800 years. Together they have moulded a life which has breathed a sense of accommodation and spirit of tolerance. They have developed a composite culture which retains the separate identity of Hinduism and Islam. It was the British rulers who created disharmony and distance. We should have spanned it long ago.
The other question that the Shiv Sena’s has posed is the linguistic identity. India reorganized the states on linguistic considerations 50 years ago. Even at that time, the danger of linguistic chauvinism was underlined by the Fazl Ali Commission on Reorganisation of States. Movements in other parts of India in the name of language have risen and fallen. The Shiv Sena phenomenon, a decade old, has not died because it has found a fertile ground in Maharashtra.
The 26/11 terrorists’ attack on Mumbai has come in handy to the Shiv Sena to raise the pitch of anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The larger question is how to fight against the anti-Muslim feeling and anti-Pakistan sentiment, both of which at times look like the two sides of the same coin. Friendly relations with Pakistan are the only answer. Unfortunately, the BJP has opposed even the talks at foreign secretaries’ level.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi is not helping the matters when he plays to the gallery. His body language and words don’t help the situation. It is true that India has made the proposal to Pakistan to resume talks. But this is what the people on both sides have been urging. It does not help if false prestige takes precedence. The priority is how to make the talks successful, not to dwell on who bowed before whom. It is too early to say which country has succeeded in its strategy. There is still a long haul to cover that will demand patience and willingness to accommodate each other’s point of view.