Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why Sena needs to pass a loyalty test (February 14, 2010)

By Swapan Dasgupta

Assuming Islamabad has an equivalent of the committee of the great and good that decides on India’s Republic Day honours, it may find it worthwhile considering something innovative: honouring the Shiv Sena with a Pakistani award. There are few organizations that in recent weeks have done more to foster a spirit of generosity towards Pakistan as has the Sena and its leadership.

The Sena’s services to Pakistan are difficult to surpass. First, it has put Mumbai on par with Peshawar in the global safety index for cricket matches. If it is hazardous for a visiting cricketer to either field near the boundary line or venture into town in Peshawar, the Shiv Sena has made it known that it will not countenance any Australian or Pakistani player in the Mumbai leg of the IPL. Unwittingly or otherwise, the Sena has helped establish political equivalence between India and Pakistan. It has neatly punctured India’s claim to be a cut above the rest in the subcontinent.

Secondly, the Sena has established the validity of what Pakistan’s politicians and generals have steadfastly maintained after 26/11: that perverted thinking in the Islamic Republic doesn’t emanate from state-sponsorship but from troublesome, yet independent, ‘non-state’ players. Pakistanis can now assert with greater confidence that just as they have their wild lot in Muridke, India has its crazies in Mumbai. True, the devotees of Bal Thackeray rely exclusively on sticks, stones and muscle power, whereas the holy warriors have considerable expertise in armed warfare. But these, many in Islamabad would undoubtedly argue, are niggling matters of detail. What counts is that fanaticism and lunacy aren’t exclusive Pakistani prerogatives.

Finally, by picking on Bollywood’s most exalted star, the Sena has advanced the Pakistanization of India. Shah Rukh Khan isn’t, and has never pretended to be, a political pundit tutored in the nuances of the Great Game along the Radcliffe Line. He is not Aamir Khan who loves a ‘cause’ each day for breakfast. What Shah Rukh has to say about good neighbourliness may be potentially interesting, even incisive. But to suggest that his starry-eyed comment “It (Pakistan) is a great neighbour…We are great neighbours, they are good neighbours. Let us love each other” constitutes an act of devilish treachery for which he must seek forgiveness is incredible. If film stars start being assessed for patriotism—like what Senator Joe McCarthy did in Hollywood to combat communism in the 1950s — India will be perilously close to emulating those in the Pakistan cricket establishment who felt that the religiosity should be a factor in team selection.

In 2006, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Nasim Ashraf had to inform Captain Inzaman-ul-Huq that “that there should be no pressure on players who don’t pray regularly or any compulsion on them to do it under pressure… I have told him there should be no perception among players that if they don’t pray they will not be in the team…” In 2010, the owners of the Shiv Sena have set a new loyalty test that carries one message: you cannot do business in Mumbai if your hostility to Pakistan isn’t sufficiently robust.

By this logic, Thackeray should have broken off its political relationship with the BJP whose leader wrote a glowing testimonial to Mohammed Ali Jinnah after visiting the mausoleum in Karachi in 2005. Compared to Advani’s ballad, Shah Rukh was guilty of composing a poor ditty. But then, as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto used to say, consistency is the virtue of small minds.

The Sena’s role in making Pakistan seem respectable is seminal and immeasurable. It certainly surpasses the goody-goody utterances of the hero of My Name is Khan. But whereas Shah Rukh can at best be faulted for naïve sentimentalism—which in his business of selling dreams is hardly a crime—the Sena’s offence is graver. By virtue of his menacing antics, it has willy-nilly joined many millions of the star’s fans to a cause that was never foremost in their minds.

There are many Indians who are wary of New Delhi’s U-turn on Pakistan, and more so because memories of the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai are still fresh. They can’t empathize with Shah Rukh’s lovey-dovey approach, just as couldn’t identify with those who lit candles on the Wagah border. Yet, even those who advocate a mix of belligerence and benign neglect towards Pakistan have been appalled at the targeting of a star simply because he is innocent of foreign policy and his title is Khan. They have watched in horror the Sena make nationalism disreputable by turning it into thuggery.

If there is to be a loyalty test, it is the Sena that must first establish it is batting for India. As of now, it doesn’t seem all that clear cut.


Sunday Times of India, February 14, 2010

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