Dr.Johnson is known as one of the foremost aphorists in the English language.His pearls of wisdom continue to adorn English literature tow centuries after his demise. The above-mentioned aphorism is perhaps one of the all time favorites. He was according to his biographer Boswell , questioned on this whereby he explained that his allusion was not towards patriotism per se which he always regarded as a noble and honorable emotion but towards the tendency to justify every vice in the book through patriotic references!
As this is one of the more popular English quotes, I was somewhat surprised that it did not find any reference in any of the television debates we have had in the last 48 hours given the topicality of the subject. Neither did I find it in any of the newspaper columns I perused.
We have been treated to the most grotesque spectacle of a bunch of goons with full political patronage from a party registered with the Election Commission taking upon themselves to disrupt a book launch by a foreign dignitary duly authorized to be in this country by the government of the day! They vented their ire on the organizer of the launch by blackening his face with ink.
There are several aspects of this loathsome saga which merit mention. The first and the foremost of course is that the perpetrators of this crime were not part of a fringe; they had the encouragement and full blessings of a political formation which is part of the alliance which is ruling the state as also in the Centre.The second was the brazenness with which dastardly act was performed. The third was total lack of remorse by the leaders of the political party that was openly supporting this form of protest;in fact I personally am tempted to not call this protest at all but unbridled thuggery! But the most odious and repulsive aspect was the restoration to patriotism by these unscrupulous goons and their political masters.
No one denied them the right to protest against a Pakistani dignitary. Protests in any way are sine qua non in a democratic set up we live in. But clearly these had to take a non-violent form. And Aditya Thackeray’s teachers need to be taken to task for not educating this seriously misguided man the definition of the term non-violence! It was an attempted intimidation by any reckoning running counter to the spirit and the letter of our Constitution.
The claim by these people to have acted having being propelled by patriotic instincts is completely hollow. I would stand corrected but I am not aware of any Shiv Sena programme that encourages its members to join the armed services and function at the national borders! It was a vulgar attempt to appeal to the most basal denominational standards. And unsurprisingly it brought about opprobrium upon the entire nation.
But should we really have been surprised at this conduct by the Shiv Sena! One needs to delve into the history of its inception and progress. I first came to know of Shiv Sena way back in the 1960’s when it commenced its programme of intimidating the South Indians resident in Bombay. The Congress (I) used it liberally as a pawn to further its own ends and shamelessly fed into its leader Bal Thackeray’s megalomania. Once the South Indians were subdued (the state did not come to their help) ,these thugs turned their ire on the Muslims which brought them close to the Sangh Parivar which became its ally. But Thackeray kept his links with the Congress (I) intact. In a television interview in the 90’s ,he openly praised Sanjay Gandhi and his tactics during the Emergency. Shiv Sainiks by this time had acquired the notoriety for strong arm tactics striking terror among the business folk and Bollywood where even the top notch icons were not presenting themselves as servile figures ;the state continued to look on with indolence. Ironically the only person who made Bal Thackeray grovel was Baburao Patel ,editor of Mother India widely regarded to be a highly unscruplous person himself. The ‘fatwas’ from this man continued getting worse when the Shiv Sena in conjunction with the BJP acquired power in the State.
All of Bal Thackeray’s homilies about placing his country above everything came to a nought when it came to promoting his own family.To be fair, in this regard he was no different to most Indian political parties except that he showed no compunction in violating the democratic norms in the most egregious manner knowing perfectly well that his nuisance potential and mobocratic proclivites would keep him insulated from any punitive actions. The Sena then turned its ire on the Bihari residents of the city -a criminal subjugation that still continues while its leaders are kept in good humour by the Congress (I), the BJP and the NCP. Bal Thackeray is no more but his son Uddhav and nephew Raj ,now rivals continue to promote his brand of criminal disruption.It is interesting to note that the state government is still not inclined to charge Uddhav for abetment to a defined crime the committed and continue to do so.
There are instances where similar formations with questionable commitment to democratic norms have cropped up in other democratic countries but they have been effectively countered. I myself was a witness to two during my sojourn abroad. During the early 80’s in the French general election, there was a real chance that no party would get absolute majority. Jacques Chirac ,leader of the right wing party was asked if that was the eventuality ,whether he would seek the support of the racist National Front.Chirac unequivocally dismissed the possibility claiming that he would prefer not to govern rather than seek an alliance with racists. Again in the early 90’s when I was in the United States, the Louisiana gubernatorial elections took place. The Republican Party in its poll had elected David Duke as its candidate .It emerged that Duke was a former member of the ultra racist Ku Klux Klan.He claimed that he had long since denounced the Klan but President George Bush Sr. himself a Republican exhorted all his party members in Louisiana to vote for the Democrat Eddie Edwards to ensure Duke’s defeat.
Let us reflect on whether this can happen in India. If not ,then it is about time that we compelled our politicians to eliminate those who debase our democratic polity from the political cauldron and treat them as metaphorical untouchables! Conclusively!
That is the only way out of the morass we find ourselves in!
By Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad