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India: Through all the tears for Bal Thackeray

by Javed Anand, 24 November 2012

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Dear Justice (Markandey) Katju, as a former judge of the highest court in the country and as a defender of free expression in your current capacity as chairperson, Press Council of India, you are understandably outraged by the criminal conduct of the Maharashtra police in arresting two women from Palghar in Thane district last week for having “dared” to express their disapproval on Facebook of the bandh enforced by sainiks following Bal Thackeray’s “unacceptable” demise. You have shot off a strong letter to Maharashtra’s chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, demanding suspension and arrest of the policemen who buckled under threats of the Sena’s musclemen. You have said that if he failed to act, you will conclude that as CM, he is unable to run the state.

Since it’s unlikely that the CM will come clean on the subject, I am making bold to respond as his self-appointed spokesperson for this moment:

Respected sir, you are perhaps unaware of the decades-old power-sharing parampara of Maharashtra. Anyone from the state can tell you that it has long been the political arrangement in the state to encourage the Shiv Sena to run a parallel government. Since its inception the Sena’s thokshahi (“constructive violence”, sainiks on the rampage) has been an integral component of Congress’s lokshahi (democratic governance).

But maybe you are right, Justice Katju. Now that a million tears have been shed, it’s time perhaps to spare a thought for our ailing democracy and shed a tear for the “idea of India” too. Perhaps we should be outraged not only by last week’s criminal conduct of a few policemen in Palghar, but our collective complicity for so long.

In less than a month, Mumbaikars will recall how Bombay’s Muslims were “taught a lesson” 20 years ago under the benign gaze of the then Congress government of Maharashtra and the watchful eyes of the then defence minister Sharad Pawar. As in the case of the massacre of innocent Sikhs in 1984, there has been no punishment worth the mention for the perpetrators and the masterminds of the mass crimes committed during December 1992- January 1993.

By draping the deceased in the national flag and extending full state honours during the last journey of the former Sena chief, the ruling Congress-NCP alliance has chosen to dishonour and desecrate that sacred document that we, the people of India, gifted ourselves over 60 years ago. Next month, as Mumbai commemorates the ravaging of cosmopolitan Bombay 20 years ago, the question is sure to be asked: Does the national flag bear no relation to the rule of law principle enshrined in the Constitution?

In the midst of the January 1993 carnage, a leading national daily had published a lead editorial stating the obvious: it’s a “pogrom” whose target were the city’s Muslims. Shocked by the scale and intensity of the violence and police complicity, a group of prominent Bombayites led a delegation to the then chief minister, Sudhakarrao Naik, to demand Thackeray’s arrest. “If I do that Bombay will burn,” pleaded the CM. “But sir, Bombay is already burning!” the delegation members exclaimed, to no avail.

Several days later, the highly respected late judge of the Bombay High Court, Justice Bakhtawar Lentin, told the then prime minister, Narasimha Rao, during his inspection tour of the metropolis: “Sir, in the last few days the streets of Bombay have resembled the streets of Nazi Germany”. As the sole outcome of media reports and citizens’ outrage, Naik was replaced by Sharad Pawar as chief minister.

Justice B.N. Srikrishna, then a sitting judge of the Bombay High Court, was appointed to probe into the causes behind and the role of different actors in the violence that claimed over a thousand lives and Muslim property worth hundreds of crores. In its report released in 1998, the Srikrishna Commission concluded: “There is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders of the Shiv Sena from the level of Shakha Pramukh to the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray who, like a veteran general, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims.”

It should come as no surprise to you, Justice Katju, to learn that having buried the recommendations of Justice Srikrishna long ago, the Congress-NCP government has now sent out a clear message to Uddhav and Raj Thackeray: follow Balasaheb! Politicians apart, perhaps this is also an appropriate moment for your brother judges to introspect.

“I piss on court judgements. Some people are trying to get a case admitted against me. But I am not afraid of court judgements. Most judges are like plague–ridden rats against whom direct action should be taken”. Thus spoke Thackeray in June 1993, within months of the communal conflagration in Mumbai. If such direct attack on the judiciary elicited no suo motu response, what can one say of the refusal of the Bombay High Court in 1994, and the Supreme Court subsequently, to entertain a petition seeking directions to the Maharashtra government to prosecute Thackeray for numerous “hate-Muslims” editorials published in the Saamna as a build-up to the pogrom of 1992-93?

“Hindutva is the Maoism of the Indian elite,” wrote a political commentator three years ago. Prominent representatives of this elite were present at Shivaji Park last Sunday shedding copious tears in homage to the departed “Hinduhriday Samrat” (emperor of Hindu hearts). It’s your turn to cry, beloved country.

The writer Javed Anand, is general secretary of Muslims for Secular Democracy, is co-editor, ‘Communalism Combat’

Note: an edited, shorter version of the bove article appeared in The Indian Express, 23 November 2012