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July 15, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Amberish K Diwanji

Politicians, patriotism and pettiness

Atal Bihari Vajpayee continues to grow in stature. He recently told thespian Dilip Kumar that holding the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest civilian award, does not imply that his patriotism is less than that of others and no one has a right to suspect his fidelity to the nation.

The famous star of yesteryears was given the award for, among other things, contributing to India-Pakistan friendship. In many ways, Vajpayee's bus journey to Lahore was part of this same act of friendship, and we all know that Pakistani leaders betrayed this act of trust. Yet, Vajpayee's act cannot be undone. Similarly, whatever contribution Dilip Kumar has made in the past will stay. And it is for these past contributions that he was given the award, all of which is part of history, even if the present is anything but friendly.

So why is Dilip Kumar being targeted by the most abominable of political outfits, the Shiv Sena, and its leader Bal Thackeray?

The Sena chief has asked Dilip Kumar to return the Nishan-e-Imtiaz as an act of patriotism.

First questions first. Who the hell is Thackeray to ask for a show of patriotism? This demagogue, unfortunately hailed by many, has in his 30-odd years in public life been unpatriotic, preaching hatred against fellow Indians, all to boost his political life.

Thackeray launched his political career by asking Maharashtrians to target South Indians simply because these non-Marathi-speaking people were taking away local jobs. Was not Thackeray's move anti-Constitution and anti-national? Was Thackeray's decree an act of patriotism, or was it a move that was more likely to cause India's balkanisation?

The Sena thugs went on a witch hunt, targeting and beating up Kannadigas, many of whom were successful restaurateurs, and Tamilians and Malayalees who competed for clerical jobs alongside the Maharashtrians. The South Indian often got the job in Bombay simply because he worked harder and often spoke a smattering of English better than his Maharashtrian colleague.

In his later years, Thackeray abused and targeted the Gujaratis (Hindus and Jains) who control most of Bombay's retail trade, and, of course, the Muslims, which continues till date. Forget not caring for fellow Indians, Thackeray does not even care for all Maharashtrians. Because by targeting the above-named communities, he placed Maharashtrians elsewhere at risk.

Huge numbers of Maharashtrians reside in Bangalore and Belgaum in Karnataka, Thanjuvar in Tamil Nadu, and Baroda and Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Did Thackeray care that his actions in Bombay could hurt fellow Maharashtrians elsewhere? He did not, because as a politician, all that Thackeray cared about was winning power. The very fact that his anti-South Indian and anti-Gujarati stance turned anti-Muslim reflects political expediency. He needed all Hindu votes on an anti-Muslim plank.

Thackeray's non-patriotic Sena killed a former Indian Air Force officer during the Bombay riots in December 1992, a Maharashtrian officer who took part in the 1965 war against Pakistan. Only because officer Chiplunkar's first name was Ismail.

When the Kargil crisis broke out in late May, Dilip Kumar quietly contributed to the Army Welfare Fund. He did not mention this even when Sena goons questioned his patriotism. An intrepid press reporter leaked the story only a few days ago. Has Thackeray, who has amassed quite a fortune, contributed much? How come this 'patriot' never asked his children to join the armed forces?

You can bet it is because Thackeray does not believe in dying for the country, but believes in others dying for the country while electing him. His sons have his empire to inherit and his shows to run, the latest being his daughter-in-law Smita producing a film. Strange that for someone who spoke of Marathi pride, his daughter-in-law has made a movie in Hindi, not Marathi. Is it because Marathi movies don't earn much?

In fact, the Marathi movie industry is crying out for help, but did Thackeray, Smita or the state government hear them? Thackeray's patriotism is limited to abusing Pakistan, making ridiculous symbolic gestures, not doing anything substantial and questioning the loyalty of Indian Muslims. The last is truly despicable.

Dilip Kumar was born Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, in undivided India. Any decent human being would treasure an award from the land of his birth, even if relations are strained, and Dilip Kumar does treasure memories of his childhood (who doesn't? Ask the NRIs).

If Dilip Kumar can without a tinge of regret renounce his birthplace, then tomorrow he can renounce the land of his destiny -- India. In fact, by fighting to keep his award, Dilip Kumar has shown that he is a great human being who treasures his birthplace just a little less than the country of his citizenship.

Incidentally, even Morarji Desai received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, so how come the Sena did not ask his descendants to return it to Pakistan. The reason is clearly the communal angle.

Thackeray is a worried man. Maharashtra goes to the polls soon and the Sena's popularity has plummeted. In the last four years and more, the only tangible achievement of the Sena-BJP government has been to change the name of Bombay to Mumbai. Great!

Lacking issues to whip up the communal sentiments that helped him win the election in 1995, Thackeray found one in Dilip Kumar aka Yusuf Khan. This only reveals Thackeray's lack of patriotism. Because the Kargil war's greatest achievement has been to foster an incredible unity among the people of India (something our horrible politicians will not really like). Our martyrs include people of all faiths -- Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist.

In one brave operation, as reported in The Indian Express, mostly Muslim soldiers of the 11 Grenadiers, shouting Allah-o-Akbar, scaled a peak and captured it from the Pakistanis. The operation cost 11 lives, all Muslim, but every Indian mourned their deaths while suffused with pride at their gallant operation. These martyrs have only increased the desire in all of us never again to allow communal violence in our country. Similarly, the death of a Dalit soldier of a village in Gujarat brought the upper castes to his residence to pay homage, something they had never done earlier.

Then there are martyrs from regions that many Indian don't even think about. Nagaland (the Naga Regiment, one of our youngest regiments, has come out in flying colours), Assam, Meghalaya (one martyr's father's response on hearing about his son's death was to ask the brave jawans to continue the war without fear), Ladakh, and so on. There is a moving story of how a United Liberation Front of Asom member left his guerilla outfit because he refused to carry out his chief's order to help the Pakistanis. "I am an Assamese and an Indian," he was quoted as saying.

Unfortunately, some politicians who thrive on hate and distrust among communities and people cannot be too happy about this. Such pan-Indian bonding hurts their electoral chances. So they make petty demands, such as asking a well-known and respected figure to prove his patriotism. The message Thackeray wants to send out is that the patriotism of Muslims is suspect, that Hindus in the times of Kargil must not trust their fellow Muslims. All for cheap politics!

Thackeray should worry more about his useless government and its inability to deliver the goods rather than pick on a great Indian (who happens to be a Muslim) and who has proved his patriotism over the years. Indian Muslims have sacrificed their lives for India, they don't need some damn politician's stamp of approval.

Amberish K Diwanji

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