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In Memory Of A Mumbai Godfather
When blind faith misplaces political calibre
By Amulya Ganguli
The assertion by a Shiv Sena apparatchik that the place in Mumbai's Shivaji Park where Bal Thackeray's body was cremated is not a memorial but a mandir, and that the organisation will not listen to any diktat for its removal by the government or the judiciary, recalls similar statements about the Ram temple in Ayodhya. At that time, too, the BJP and other saffron outfits had claimed that the belief about the birthplace of Lord Ram was a matter of faith and, therefore, beyond judicial arbitration.

What this outlook demonstrates is the presence of parties and groups which consider themselves to be beyond the existing constitutional framework, of which the judiciary is a pillar. The essence of this attitude is a rejection of the present pluralistic society and preference for their own model of a theocratic or totalitarian state.

In the Shiv Sena's case, this concept has come to the fore in the context of the death of its supremo although it was evident earlier, too, in Thackeray's open praise of Hitler. But, where the BJP is concerned, it is much older, dating back to the trashing of the existing Constitution as basically a replica of the Government of India Act of 1935 and, therefore, a document with colonial roots, which do not reflect the country's Hindu ethos.

It is worth recalling that one of the first tasks of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 1998 was the setting up of a commission to review the Constitution in deference to the Sangh parivar's longstanding wish for a new one. It was only the Supreme Court's stipulation against any alteration of the Constitution's basic structure, which prevented the presentation of a new, pro-Hindu manuscript. But, the unwillingness of the Hindutva camp to accept the present Constitution remains, as the latest episode shows.

How the tussle about the memorial/mandir will be resolved is unclear. What is obvious is that it will not be easy for the government to dismantle the structure that has already come up in Shivaji park. Moreover, the mandir may expand in course of time and become a permanent building. What is worth considering in this respect is that this open defiance of the rule of law is being offered by a group, which is not devoid of political support. Not only that, its social acceptance is no secret, as the presence of Bollywood stars at the funeral confirmed, not to mention the massive crowd which thronged the streets, while a series of letters published in the Telegraph, a Kolkata newspaper, showed that Thackeray had his admirers in cities far away from Mumbai.

The support for a Marathi with a fascistic outlook in West Bengal with its supposedly Leftist mindset would have been surprising but for an earlier occasion when the historian, Tapan Ray Chaudhuri, was appalled to find middle class citizens in Kolkata who found nothing wrong with the official pogrom of Muslims in Narendra Modi's Gujarat. It is possible, of course, that this attitude is a middle class phenomenon, as elsewhere in the country.

But, there is probably more to it. What is undeniable is that governments in all the states have come to resemble each other more closely than the politicians will care to admit. For the middle class Bengalis, therefore, as well as wealthy businessmen, who had been at the receiving end of the routine extortions carried out by Marxist cadres for three decades, there is apparently little difference between a government run by Jyoti Basu and one which was under Thackeray's thumb. In both West Bengal and Maharashtra, it was known that the police were controlled by the powers that be, whether they were in the CPI(M) headquarters in Alimuddin Street or in the Thackeray household in Dadar, and that the rule of law was a misnomer. Nor has there been any change under Trinamool Congress, whose chief minister Mamata Banerjee personally went to a police station to secure the release of some of her party's goons.

It goes without saying that the decline in the calibre of politicians has bred disrespect for the elected governments as well, which is why the civil society activists talk about changing the system. While their inability to suggest a credible, non-utopian alternative has enabled the politicians to dismiss their challenge, it is obvious that if the parties persist with harbouring the Robert Vadras and Nitin Gadkaris, the erosion of faith in the system will continue with the result that defiance of the type voiced by the Shiv Sena will become the norm rather than an exception because governments will not have the moral authority to counter them.

It has to be remembered that community- or caste-based parties like the pro-Hindu BJP or the pro-Sikh Akali Dal or the pro-Dalit BSP appeared in the first place because a party with a pan-Indian outlook like the Congress lost its elan while the Left, which could have been an alternative, remained trapped, first, in a defunct ideology and then became a practitioner of the "bourgeois vices" which became apparent during its rule in West Bengal.

--(IPA Service)
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News Updated at : Sunday, December 9, 2012
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