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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 9

All in the Name of Power Politics

Editorial

Saturday 16 February 2008, by SC

As we go to press the news has come that exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen’s resident permit to stay on in this country is being extended beyond February 17, the day it is supposed to expire. However, she continues to remain interned at the ‘safe’ place she is being kept in the Capital—neither can she meet any of her friends and acquaintances nor can the latter meet her: the condition in which she is being forced to stay is worse than house arrest. As is well known by now, the Union Government is doing all in its capacity to see that she “voluntarily” leaves India and flies to any of the Western (mainly European) countries she used to stay in after she was compelled to go into exile in 1994. Thankfully she has till date successfully resisted all such attempts whose principal aim was to cast a slur on our secular democracy. Why? Because when there has been an unmistakable Talibanisation of the Bangladeshi polity and hatred against India has reached staggering proportions in that neighbouring state, driving out from this country a bold, courageous, secular writer like Taslima Nasreen who considers India her home (as brilliantly brought out in her Times of India piece reproduced elsewhere in this issue) would have amounted to our collective lajja (shame) when in reality she has proved by her deeds to be the garba (pride) of the entire subcontinent, regardless of what the bigots may claim.

However, that public opinion in the country is not with the governments—both at the Centre and in West Bengal (jointly responsible for Taslima’s present plight)—was brought out in sharp relief on February 13 when academics, writers, intellectuals, theatre personalities, journalists led by Mahasweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Girish Karnad, Habib Tanvir, Ashish Nandy, Sumit Sarkar, Rajendra Yadav, held a largely attended media conference at New Delhi’s Press Club of India to extend full-throated support to not only Taslima but also all others like Dr Binayak Sen and the intrepid journalists who are languishing behind bars having become victims of the state’s growing attacks on human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The Taslima episode graphically brings out the extent to which the Centre and the States are kowtow-ing to vested interests—regrettably in this case religious fundamentalists—in their own selfish interests tied to electoral politics. This was not expected of either the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre or the West Bengal State Government which, despite all their failures, deficiencies as well as criminality (as exemplified by the horrendous events in Nandigram in March and November 2007), had seldom in the past been accused of pandering to religious fundamentalism. This is not only shocking but a measure of the depths to which even secular political organisations have sunk in order to garner votes. Isn’t this phenomenon a sad commentary on the state of democracy today? There can be no two opinions on that.

The spectacle witnessed in Mumbai is no different. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s provocative statements on the so-called North Indian ‘outsiders’ in the cosmopolitan city, starting from his outbursts against superstar Amitabh Bachchan, resulted in his supporters and followers going on a rampage holding the country’s commercial capital to ransom as innocent North Indians were mercilessly beaten up by the MNS thugs with the police and law enforcement machinery at a standstill in the absence of any directive from the State administration. Initially it appeared that the Shiv Sena of Bal Thackeray was dissociating from this violence and the Sena supremo’s pronouncements generated such an impression. However, the Sena’s Executive President and Balasaheb’s son, Uddhav, was soon engaged in competitive rhetoric with his cousin, Raj, in a bid to win over the same sons-of-the-soil; for oldtimers this was reminiscent of Bal Thackeray’s tirade against South Indians in the sixties. And all this went on while the Congress-NCP Government of Vilasrao Deshmukh remained conspicuously inactive. In fact that violence could have been curbed on the very first day by all-owing the police to move in and arrest Raj Thackeray. The MNS chief’s expression of “thanks” to CM Vilasrao has indeed spilled the beans. The much-belated ‘action’ against Raj and his MNS activists alongside SP strongman Abu Azmi came only after the anti-outsider violence had spread to Nashik and Pune.

All these definitely magnify the deformities of our parliamentary democracy crippling it from within. With the political class having established its direct involvement in the pernicious activities linked to power politics, it cannot be relied upon. What is essential in the circumstances is timely intervention by the civil society to stem the rot. Without such urgent intervention these happenings can certainly spell havoc in the long term.

February 14 S.C.

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