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Commentary/Varsha Bhosle

And justice for some

Post-civic-elections, it's but natural to cogitate over why the average urban Maharashtrian (who isn't necessarily Marathi), went a pro-Shiv-Sena way. Why on earth wasn't he influenced by the press campaigns relating to: 1) the Ramesh Kini affair; 2) Bal Thackeray's anti-judiciary statement and subsequent court-case; 3) Thackeray's anti-P L Deshpande ranting; 4) Anna Hazare's allegations of corruption at the state government; 5) Thackeray's remarks on Mahatma Gandhi; 6) the remote-control arrogance of Thackeray; 7) the Sainiks's trashing a newspaper office; and, 8) the religious fundamentalism of the party.

Even if I hadn't wanted to jaw about them, for months, these were the only topics amongst Mumbai/Punekars. And whether you're tired of parochiality or not, I've just got to unload what I've gauged and be done with it, thank you. To work, then:

One, it was hard to swallow that Raj Thackeray would bloody his hands over a 600 square-foot flat. For Rs 60 million – perhaps. For Rs 300,000 or Rs 400,000? Naaah. By all rumours, especially the ones about their squeezing Enron for millions, the Thackerays are big-time. Then, the post-mortem reports were so warped, with veteran doctors refuting each other and the world – with even the brain of the deceased being 'lost' – that nothing made any sense in that mire of disinformation. With the muddling in of Phoolan Devi, V P Singh and Chhagan Bhujbal, it soon degenerated into a political circus. Result: The Thackerays got the benefit of the doubt – like the one given to Rajiv Gandhi after Bofors.

Two, no Indian in his right mind can ever believe that an entire class of people – whether consisting of actors, teachers or judges – is free of corrupt elements. In 1995, the Bar Council of Maharashtra charged that judges of the Bombay high court had secured land allotments from the previous Congress government by filing false affidavits (that's right: judges in a land scam). The same year, Chief Justice A M Bhattacharjee had to resign after admitting to having accepted $80,000 from a foreign publisher; Justice S K Desai resigned following allegations of corruption; and no-confidence resolutions were passed against five other judges. After which, the Supreme Court decreed that the Bar couldn't move against the Bench, and that was that. Result: Bal Thackeray got the benefit of the doubt – based on public experience.

Three, apart from the uneasy question as to why a respected intellectual like Mr P L Deshpande agreed at all to receive an award from a government he abhorred, it gradually dawned on the people that said gentleman had yet to return, or direct to charity, the hundreds of thousands he had accepted from said government. As much as the Ketkars and Bhaves went to town with the issue, the common man simply pondered over the basic principle of the thing. And PL didn't come off smelling of roses. Result: it didn't hurt Thackeray's image in the least – he's never been perceived as a goody two shoes, anyway.

Four, Anna Hazare himself made a pact with Chief Minister Manohar Joshi and thereby demolished his own fearless-crusader credibility. Then there was the case of the unaccounted-for government grant. Then there were the ethics in his exposing the private life of Gopinath Munde… This one's tricky, indeed: Had Sharad Pawar done the exposé, he'd have been admired as a wily politico; but for a Gandhian to muck about with scandals… well, it's… But that's us – complicated Indian psyches. Result: I've yet to meet a single Punekar (staunch Congressmen, these), who doesn't think that Hazare should have stayed put and mute in Ralegao-Siddhi.

Five, as for the Mahatma Gandhi number, I think the people are up to their ears with the holiness business. But don't take my word for it: On Martyrs Day, every indignant front page of every newspaper reported that there was not a crowd of even six to be seen at Rajghat this year. Nor was there a mob around Tushar Gandhi's yatra with the Mahatma's ashes. Generations change, (some) people mature – and there's a limit to Establishment-enforced sanctity. Result: the people may have felt, Rashtrapita or Rashtrapurush – what's the big deal?

Six, willy-nilly, people can't help but respect a straight-shooting politician. And most grasp the funnies that seem to elude the holier-than-thou's amok in the press. Balasaheb can't help his puns and does have a caustic sense of humour, one that doesn't translate well into English, but one which even Sharadrao appreciates – privately, of course. Methinks, people enjoy the remote-controlled entertainment.

Seven, most Marathis (I shift to the particular since this battle raged in the vernacular press), feel that Mahanagar's insinuations about Thackeray's relationship with his recently widowed daughter-in-law were detestable, no two ways about it. Though we oppose Shiv Sainiks indulging in violence, the attack this slur provoked did not bring us to much grief, either. By not maintaining decorum, and being blatantly partisan, the press itself has lost credibility.

Eight, as hard as it is to believe, Behrampada – the Muslim-dominated slum in Bandra East, north-west Bombay, scene of riot-time conflagration – voted in the Sena candidate who defeated the Congress one by a margin of 4,700 votes (Samajwadi's Muslim gent wasn't even close). In The Times of India, P P Jamkhedkar, an apolitical social worker, said, "The Sena worked hard to win the hearts of Behrampada residents after coming to power"; and Aslam Khan, a resident, added, "Shiv Sena workers attend to our problems without demanding money". Now, isn't it just possible that the largely unlettered residents of Behrampada plumped for the Sena since they weren't exposed to pinko diatribes…?

Yes, people change, attitudes change: Now it seems that the onus of being a fundamentalist-divisive-fascist force has shifted from the Marathi manoos to the 'multi-ethnic mix of Hindu population' – and Christians – and Muslims – who catapulted the BJP-SS combine to power in definitely Marathi-low areas. Catch this headline from The Asian Age: 'Non-Marathis swung balance towards Sena. Western suburbs favoured party more than traditional strongholds.'

There was support from more unexpected quarters: the nation's first Communist home minister, Indrajit Gupta, while addressing personnel on Police Raising Day, exhorted Delhi's cops to emulate Bombay's bravest. Quelle surprise for Bombay's saffron police force and government! Especially as both, human rights groups and Islamic political lobbies, charge the supposedly Sena-leaning policemen of an anti-Muslim bias in handling violence. Oh I can go on about this, but I'm keeping the farce of the Srikrishna Commission coverage for another day.

The strangest facet of post-election pondering has been the weighing of the Congress defeat against the BJP-SS victory. Take any number of reports/columns/editorials, it's, like, the combine won only because the opposition failed. Had the BJP-SS lost, it would then have been due to the positive, right-thinking, unifying efforts of the secular parties. Or it's, like, the Congress must clean up its act and blow the scum away – and never mind its Bhagats and Sukh Rams and Rais. And when all else fails, there's always the old Sena-rigging-the-ballots ploy. So let's forget what every seasoned observer knows – basically, 'every' party indulges in rigging, and the number of transgressions is equal from all quarters.

But the sourest grapes came from the ToI: 'Disgust at the number of candidates with criminal records may have accounted for the low voter turn out, especially in the elite areas of Mumbai. On the other hand, those who came out to vote were very likely committed supporters of the combine'. I am a rank elitist, but even I can't quite stomach the implications of that 'on the other hand'. Does it mean that the elite reject criminals and the masses support them? Which may be true… but then why go on and on with 'divisive', 'fascist', etc? Just say, 'because the elite didn't vote, the goondas came to power through the rabble vote' and be done with it!

It's true that municipal elections mainly reflect urban reality. But then, isn't it also true that the BJP in New Delhi and the Sena in Bombay proved that their past victories were no flashes in the pan? That they delivered? It's obvious from the work done by Suresh Kalmadi that Pune and Chinchwad-Pimpri would be foolish to seek a change from the Congress; so also, Sharadrao's nurturing of the rural sugar-lobby – the results of which are evident in the zilla parishad elections. But I wonder, why isn't the same largesse extended to the saffron parties?

The psyche of secularists is strange, indeed. A glance through Arena will show that anyone writing Hindutva (and few are allowed to, what with all those take-'em-outs), is instantly deemed hate-filled, retarded, weak-minded, etc, simply because one holds a conflicting view. Spit out a few catch-phrases here and there, and entire rationales stand automatically rebutted. Oh fiddlesticks! To such pea-sized brains, a forum is a place for expounding 'like' thoughts – and everybody in it simply must comply, achtung! Apparently, the laying out or defence of one's beliefs is the privilege of only screeching secularists (some of whom, incidentally, don't even have the guts to hurl abuse under their own names). So much for the Fascist, Nazi bent of Hindutva alone…

Varsha Bhosle, the Bombay-based columnist, also contributes to The Sunday Observer.

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