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Open letter, part 2

Open letter, part 2

What a fine letter you have penned (without wasting any ink!): it is reassuring to find that a graduate degree from Xaviers still has its benefits. Allow me to respond. You seem to harp on the point that there can be no ‘normal’ relations with Pakistan while there is terror on the border and our jawans are killed. I agree: we are faced with a hostile neighbour. But how do you then explain the fact that just a few months ago, prime minister Modi and Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif had a warm handshake in Ufa and promised to ‘fight terror jointly’ and to widen the scope of cultural exchanges. There was cross border firing on the border then too, our jawans and innocent civilians were being killed then too. And yet, the government of India chose to sit across a table and talk to Pakistan. It is a government of which you are an important part as a major ally. If you felt so strongly about prime minister Modi reaching out to Pakistan, then maybe you should have withdrawn from the union cabinet? After all, major foreign policy decisions do fall within the collective responsibility of the cabinet, don’t they? And why was there no protest when Mr Kasuri was given a visa, or had a book release in Delhi that was attended by BJP stalwarts LK Advani and Yashwant Sinha? Or is the Shiv Sena’s outrage confined to Mumbai city only?

You also don’t seem to see the act of throwing ink as ‘violent’: obviously, you seem to believe that to throw ink and blacken someone’s face is ‘non-violent’. You even call it ‘democratic’ and ‘historic’. It appears your and my definition of non violence are at variance: I certainly see ink throwing as a violent, undemocratic, act. The definition of non violence in the dictionary is this: the use of peaceful means, not force to bring about social and political change ( as so ably exemplified by the Mahatma) Is throwing ink a peaceful act by this definition? An AK-47 kills, ink blackens the face: the effect maybe vastly different,but both get their legitimacy from brazen use of muscle power. The Shiv Sena has every right to protest peacefully, it has no constitutional right to resort to violence, or threaten and intimidate.

That you are sharing power in Maharashtra makes this act even more unacceptable. Are we saying that the Shiv Sena is above the constitution of the land that allows law enforcers to be law breakers? What message are we sending out to the policemen if their leaders encourage violation of the law? And if you feel that Devendra Fadnavis is wrong in providing security to the former Pakistani foreign minister, then why not take a black flag protest to Mantralaya, why seek to prevent those Mumbaikars who may want to attend a book function from doing so? Isn’t this after all about competitive politics and proving yourselves to be greater desh-Bhakts than your saffron allies ahead of local elections?  The Shiv Sena, lest we forget, is a political party, not a local militia. Or is it the other way round? I will grant you this: across generations, you have been consistent on one issue: consistent in justifying violence. I had hoped (and I still do) that atleast you would reflect the urges of a new Maharashtra and move away from the politics of ‘thokshahi’ to a focussed approached on job creation for the young. From Balasaheb to Aaditya, shouldn’t the Shiv Sena change with the times, or run the risk of being left behind?

Your heart bleeds for the widows of jawans, so does mine. You ask if we outrage over soldiers being killed on the border: of course, we do. I would be willing to wager that I have probably met more families of soldiers and those affected by terror than most Shiv Sainiks ( I really would be interested to know how many Shiv Sainiks, for example,have actually attended the funeral of our jawans). I lost friends in 26/11 and my heart goes out to their families.  But I do not seek revenge by seeking to stop music concerts or book releases by Pakistanis. I do not believe that spilling ink will ever compensate for the loss of innocent blood. The answer to terror is not a lack of basic civility to a guest or a denial of a shared heritage as reflected in music, or sport or writing. Terror has to be defeated with a zero tolerance for the terrorist, not by holding every Pakistani guilty for the acts of a Lashkar or an ISI.

You liken the Shiv Sena’s approach to Pakistan to the global approach to South Africa in the apartheid years. While I don’t think you can compare state sanctioned apartheid with non state actor terror groups that strike now at Pakistan too, there is evidence to suggest that Islamabad has never acted against those terrorists who target India. But trust me, isolating Pakistan at this stage is no answer. Not playing cricket with South Africa didn’t eventually force the regime to bend: the country was forced to abandon racism when the economic costs of promoting a whites-only society became too much for the regime to bear. We must build global opinion against Pak based terror. But that won’t happen if you resort to violent acts on Mumbai’s streets. Actually, when you dig a cricket pitch, or throw ink at someone, you only give an opportunity to the other side to score propaganda points. Do you really believe that throwing ink on the organiser of a book function will send a tough message to Pakistan? Frankly, the only message it sends out is that you are seeking to impose your value system on the rest of Mumbai. Mumbai and Maharashtra’s culture has always been (or atleast once was) one of debate, of civility, of tolerance: you have reversed it by making violence and intolerance your credo.

Where I do agree with you is that the media doesn’t give enough space to farmer issues: the real crisis facing Maharashtra. Personally, I can claim to have done several programmes on agrarian distress, but you are right, the media as a collective doesn’t do enough to put the farmer at the heart of prime time news. I do believe that the Sena when it was in the opposition did attempt periodically to highlight the state’s farm crisis. But once in power, I don’t see the same focus on agrarian issues even though I am aware of Udhav Thackeray’s deep concern for farmers.Maybe, you are a victim of an image trap but when you have spent 48 years as a political party bashing up South Indians, North Indians, Muslims, then the image of being a party that endorses violence will stick. My patriotism doesn’t allow me to see my fellow-Indians as the enemy because of the community they belong to: be it then a hapless taxi driver or a slum dweller or a public intellectual.  In this instance, you have attacked a Maharashtrian, not for the first time, perhaps not for the last. At this rate, forget the Pakistanis, I wonder: will anyone be left to target within India?

Once again, thank you for responding in such a gracious manner. This truly is a season of open letters. I welcome your invitation for a cup of tea: I like mine with adrak and no sugar.

Post -script: I am sure that Shiv Sainiks listen to you as their putative supremo. Why not ask them to follow the spirit of your letter : have an open live TV debate at Shivaji Park on the merits of a dialogue with Pakistan and a cultural engagement with people from that country? Will perhaps be a better way of discussing this issue than blackening faces? Might even set a healthy precedent and get us all much needed TRPs!

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Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra.



© 2020 Rajdeep Sardesai. All Rights Reserved.

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