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Home > India > News > Columnists > Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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Quit India, Mumbai says again

December 03, 2008

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Sixty six years after the clarion call went out from Bombay's Gowalia Tank asking its rulers to Quit India, the citizens of this amazing city came together in their thousands on Wednesday evening to repeat the call.

This time, their target was those who succeeded India's British rulers, and made a worse mess of what they colonialists had left behind.

It was a proud moment to be present at the Gateway of India (the choice of venue could not have been more apt; the landmark monument by Mumbai's coast was from where the last of the British troops left India in 1947), and I felt privileged to have witnessed history in the making.

Out-of-towners can ask, what, a few thousands set forth after their work hours and gather for an evening out, and you call it history?!

But then, they will never know.

It is history, because Mumbai has this reputation -- undeserved, I have always felt -- of being a cold-hearted city that just didn't give a damn. But residents know that for all their apathy, Mumbaikars are the first to help out in times of crisis.

Having said that, if anyone had told me this morning that the turnout will be what I witnessed at the Gateway of India, I would have had a good laugh.

A few hundred, I told myself till yesterday. A couple of thousands, I increased the number this morning. And when I walked out office to head to the Gateway, I said there could be around 5,000 people.

Naturally, the turnout I found myself amidst was mind-blowing.

And if I was a politician, I would be very very worried at the ground slipping away from under my feet.

Because the sentiment that ran through the crowd was vocally and unabashedly anti-politician.

For too long has Mumbai, and India, been lulled by the promises of those we elect every five years. And nothing demonstrates this betrayal than the terror attacks that ravaged the city's dearest landmarks last week. Promises made to the city and its populace in the wake of previous terror attacks -- dating back to 1993, mind -- lie in tatters, as does the Mumbaikar's trust in those he elects to safeguard his interests.

The sentiment among the people I mingled with in the rally, as Citizen Joe, was one of indignation and rage.

Why should the city contribute the country's largest chunk of income tax? What does it get in return?

Right, let's not pay taxes anymore, said one banner.

Why should we trust the politician? What have we got in return for coming out and casting our vote every election, asked another.

Right, let's not vote, said another banner.

I couldn't but think: Would the Father of the Nation have been proud that the tools of civil disobedience he launched against foreign rule, are now being resorted to by a city that has the freedom movement running through its warp and weft?

Forgive us, Father, grieving Mumbaikars will say, but we have not sinned. Today, we have been left with no choice by the chicanery exhibited by those who have inherited your legacy and trampled it underfoot, that you too would have done the same thing.

Through the evening of lump-in-the-throat moments -- watching school and college students shouting themselves hoarse with cries of Vande Mataram, Jai Hind and Bharat Mata ki Jai; young and old alike jostling for space; the rich and poor all marching resolutely for their City of Joy; all of us marching side by side, to save Mumbai from near ruin -- my mind couldn't help wondering.

It is not all that impossible to unleash a storm, not in the era of viral communication and 24x7 media, but how would this awesome citizen power be harnessed? By who? Will one set of incompetents make way for another? What next?

Non-payment of tax? Sounds attractive, not to mention lucrative, but sorry, it's not possible in the age of TDS. It is also illegal.

Not voting? Excuse me, but Mumbai is not known for its high voter turnout anyway, most of us turn up our nose at voting.

So what next?

There were enough citizen's groups at the rally handing out pamphlets and forms to fill. Among the couple I managed to bring back to office was one calling itself the Ordinary Citizen's Movement.

I could see and hear ad guru Alyque Padamsee exhorting the crowds to fill the form, let them know what they want, seeking actionable ideas. Many, I could see, were busy filling forms (I didn't, because I still don't know what I want, apart from a safe and liberal Mumbai). Many bright ideas could emerge through this sieve.

There was another outfit called Togethervr.India that was also distributing a pamphlet on Awakening India, it's now or never!

There were many more that were moving among the citizenry, eliciting views and suggestions.

What would be a grave mistake, would be treat this evening as the end. Or, as the political establishment will be wont to do, dismiss it as a show by 'lipstick and power wearing women' and such � to quote the amazing M A Naqvi. Naqvi saab is not alone in this, I am sure, he merely articulated a point of view that must be coursing through his colleagues within the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as other political parties.

And that would a tragic mistake.

December 3, 6 pm, is neither the end, nor is it something trivial.

Today was the beginning; a humble beginning if you want to call it that, but one that will rock the foundations of many hard-held beliefs, one that will show the rest of the country what committed citizens can do if they only step out of their comfort zone.

Could the British have imagined on August 9, 1942, that in three years they will have to pack their bags and exit the jewel in their crown? Why are our politicians then being so smug?


Saisuresh Sivaswamy



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