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|December 29, 1998||
What's A Few Lies Between Friends?
The gentle request of the month came from Bal Thackeray. It was after a number of his acolytes had bravely attacked a couple of theatres, after some more had suavely taken off their clothes. Change the names of the two women characters in Fire to 'Shabana' and 'Saira,' he warbled, and he would "allow" the film to be shown.
Calling the women 'Radha' and 'Seeta' as the film does, Thackeray argued, is offensive to Hindus. The faithful lined up, as they always do, to applaud this sterling defence of a whole culture under fierce attack from a puny film. "Touche!" wrote none other than Shabana Azmi, who plays one of those two women characters, in The Times of India.
Of course, Azmi did go on to write: "A small matter of detail though, the name is not Seeta but Neeta in both the Hindi and English versions of Fire."
A simple mistake by Thackeray? A genuine oversight? Or a deliberate lie?
Given the immense significance of Seeta to hundreds of millions of Indians, the answer is obvious. Thackeray and friends know that significance well. Of course, to so many Indians, Seeta stands for truth, for purity, for virtue. Today she is "defended" by a bald, inept, lie. There you have an idea of how much respect Thackeray and his Shiv Sena really have for her.
What's in a name, when the stakes are nothing less than trying to rouse the same hatreds the Sena has specialised in for years? What's one measly letter here and there? After all, Thackeray has prevented us from seeing Fire for ourselves anyway, so who's going to know? And when that switched letter produces a name pregnant with so much meaning, the lie must have been irresistible.
What this party and its supporters have in abundance is a noisome predilection for half-truths and lies. The mutation of "Neeta" into "Seeta" is only one. I found more, just as bare-faced, in a book I leafed through recently. It's called "Sir Manohar Joshi" and is written by an old friend of the Maharashtra CM, one Dr Vijay Dhavale of Ottawa, Canada. The "editing and English transliteration" is by a Dr Ramesh Waghmare. The book is a kind of hagiography of Joshi, celebrating his elevation to his current job and extolling for its readers his soft-spoken virtues. Clearly it grew out of the affection Dhavale has for Joshi. Which is just fine -- what are old friends for anyway?
"Sir Manohar Joshi" comes complete with a letter from Thackeray. He congratulates Dhavale for writing it, and urges youth to read the book so they will learn from the stirring example of Manohar Joshi. My youth is fast disappearing, no doubt, but I made an attempt to read the book anyway. Doing so, I found much to marvel at.
On page 206, in a chapter titled "Cricket," I read a paragraph that I shall quote to you in its entirety.
"After the heinous bomb blasts in Mumbai by some agents of the underworld in 1993, the Pakistani cricket team was scheduled to play a game in the city. When later evidence proved that the saboteurs were aided by Pakistan's International Security Intelligence [sic], an incensed Thackeray issued a call to cancel the game. Some newspapers argued that it was unfair to penalise the players and fans who were looking forward to see the traditionally close encounters between the two teams. Manohar Joshi, though himself seething with fury at the blatant attempt by the neighbouring country to destabilise India's industrial hub, thought that the game should go on. He tried to mediate the disagreement. He was on the verge of succeeding when some youngsters destroyed the pitch. The match had to be abandoned."
See anything unusual in that paragraph? No? Try this: the bomb blasts the writer refers to happened in March 1993. And when was this incident in which "some youngsters" destroyed the pitch at Bombay's Wankhede Stadium, forcing a scheduled match with Pakistan to be abandoned? October 1991.
Nothing unusual, except that Dr Dhavale wants you to believe that the bomb blasts led to the destruction of the pitch. Even if the bomb blasts actually took place one-and-a-half years after the pitch was vandalised. Nothing unusual, except that it's another inept lie.
Encouraged by this discovery, I searched through "Sir Manohar Joshi" for references to the Bombay riots of 1992-93. I found one -- that's correct, one -- such reference. It was on page 99, and here it is:
"The bomb blast at the Mumbai Stock Exchange and some other prominent buildings in early 1993 not only took several lives, it turned the politics of the state upside down. The news that the prime suspects were Ibrahim Dawood [sic] and his gang, many of whom had fled to destinations outside India, touched off communal riots in several parts of the metropolis. Chief Minister Sudhakarrao Naik was judged to have failed to control them and Prime Minister Rao asked Sharad Pawar to take over the reins of power from Naik. Some analysts called it a clever ploy by Rao to get rid of one of the main contenders for his job. Some others, however, surmised that Naik who had been appointed by Pawar as his stand-in had become too independent for the latter's taste. So the latter had engineered the riots to make his appointee look incompetent and use it as a ruse to ride into town as a white knight. Pawar became Chief Minister of Maharashtra in March 1993."
See anything unusual in that paragraph? Try this: the bomb blasts happened, as I mentioned earlier, in March 1993. The riots happened in December 1992 and January 1993. In fact, Pawar did not become CM as a consequence of the bombs as the paragraph implies; he was already CM when they went off on March 12.
Nothing unusual, except that Dr Dhavale wants you to believe that the bomb blasts "touched off" the riots. Even if the bomb blasts actually took place three months after the riots. Nothing unusual, except it's still another lie.
So why does Dr Dhavale want to spread such inversions of history? Why did neither Dr Waghmare nor Thackeray see fit, in their respective contributions to the book, to correct them? Why did Joshi himself, who I presume has read it, not correct them? Why does this party need to lie?
Simple: the lies work well to cover up the Shiv Sena's own wrongdoing.
After all, it was not just "some youngsters" who dug up that cricket pitch, it was a gang of Shiv Sena vandals. If you think that was minor, what they did during the riots was far worse. For example, here's Justice Srikrishna, writing after his five-year inquiry into the riots in the constant presence of Sena lawyers:
"Large scale rioting and violence was ... taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writing and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray. ... Because some criminal Muslims killed innocent Hindus in one corner of the city, the Shiv Sainiks "retaliated" against several innocent Muslims in other corners of the city."
What's more, Justice Srikrishna also had this to say about the bomb blasts:
"One common link between the riots ... and bomb blasts of 12th March 1993 appears to be that the former appear to have been a causative factor for the latter. ... The serial bomb blasts were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993."
In other words, the blasts were a reaction to the riots. But only a few years on, here's an effort to persuade us of precisely the opposite. A small matter of detail though: the riots happened before the blasts. That detail cannot be changed.
Unless, of course, you tell the lie often enough -- which effort is already bearing some luscious fruit. Last August, someone wrote to Rediff to advise me: "While I am in no way a supporter of the Bombay riots ... you should realise these are emotional reactions to the bomb explosion carried out by misguided Muslims."
Right. And did you know, that obnoxious film Fire touched off the 1965 war against Pakistan!
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