The police do not have it in them to confront the Hindutva groups in a country ruled by a Hindutva party.
No wonder Munawar Faruqui feels this is the end for him, asserts Jyoti Punwani.
These are the two reasons given by the police for cancelling 12 shows of the Mumbai-based artiste in the last two months, the latest in Bengaluru on Sunday.
The answer to both is No.
All the shows announced by the popular comic -- his You Tube channel has 1.46 million subscribers -- have been sold out. That means hundreds of Hindus are willing to shell out money to watch his performance, even if means fulfilling all the COVID-19 conditions necessary for travelling to the auditorium, and watching the show with masks on.
Not quite the behaviour of those whose religious feelings are hurt.
Obviously, these Hindus remain unimpressed by Faruqui's arrest and imprisonment in January in Indore on charges of hurting religious feelings, for which the police admitted they had no evidence.
What about the threat to law and order that Faruqui's shows pose?
If a performance has a censor certificate, if auditoriums have been booked after following all mandatory procedures; if people have paid money to watch the performance, in short, if due process has been followed on all counts, whose duty is it to protect those who've followed the law from those who threaten violence?
Obviously, the police do not have it in them to confront the latter, because they are Hindutva groups in a country ruled by a Hindutva party. But it must be pointed out that police report to the state government, not the Centre. And two of the five states where Faruqui's shows have been cancelled owing to threats from Hindutva groups are not ruled by the BJP.
Indeed, Mumbai set the trend a month ago. Three shows were cancelled (external link) at the very last moment by the police, even though threats had started weeks before the show, and many had beseeched the police on Twitter to act.
In fact, the Mumbai police had it easy: The person who started issuing the threats did not initially have much backing; Faruqui's colleagues even told this reporter they knew him and would reason with him.
Later the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal got into the act, but even then, their lack of support could be seen from the fact that they had to bring members from Gujarat to threaten the owners of the auditorium where the shows were to be held.
The owner of the auditorium, a Gujarati Hindu herself, said that initially, her staffers were threatened on the phone by two Bajrang Dal members, and she provided the police with their phone numbers.
Had the police arrested them, would their colleagues have come from Gujarat to warn the owner that they would burn down her auditorium? Even after such a threat was given, the police 'escorted them out of the premises' with a mere warning.
But to the organisers of Faruqui's show, similar indulgence wasn't shown -- they were served a written notice that if a law and order problem took place due to religious sentiments being hurt during the show, action would be taken against them.
From whom were the Mumbai police taking orders? Was it the decision of the Nationalist Congress Party, which controls the Maharashtra home department, and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, to make the police succumb to threats of violence by those who, along with the BJP, run a 24/7 campaign against the MVA government on social media? And what was the role of the Congress, also a part of the government?
In Maharashtra, at least the Congress had an excuse -- it is the smallest partner in the government. But what of Chhattisgarh? Faruqui's shows were cancelled in Raipur too, just a fortnight ago, with the VHP and Bajrang Dal threatening the SP and collector that if they didn't stop the shows from taking place, they would do so in their own way.
Strangely, Rahul Gandhi, who tweeted his support to Faruqui yesterday, didn't say a word then.
It is also likely that neither Uddhav Thackeray nor Maharashtra's Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil nor Chhattisgarh's CM Bhupesh Baghel were even consulted. The police may well have taken the decision on its own.
After all, both the Mumbai police and the Chhattisgarh police have a glorious record of supporting Hindutva groups, even when these groups indulge in violence. In Mumbai, the police have performed their duty against such mobs only when they have been ordered to, as they were in 2000, when then Maharashtra home minister Chhagan Bhujbal ordered Bal Thackeray's arrest for articles written by him during the 1992-1993 riots.
Ten years later, the police ensured that Shah Rukh Khan's film My Name is Khan was successfully screened in city theatres despite the Shiv Sena's threats to prevent the screening. The NCP's R R Patil was home minister then, and in a fine gesture, he along with then CM Ashok Chavan, saw the movie at a theatre. (Ironically, at that time, the BJP's Shaina NC took up Shah Rukh Khan's cause with the police.)
But Munawar Faruqui is no Shah Rukh Khan, so why would the Mumbai Police go against their grain and not give full rein to Hindutva activists as they have in the past?
The Raipur Police's record is no different: they watched as the well-known social activist Swami Agnivesh was assaulted in 2018 by members of the Sangh Parivar.
Even today, Hindutva mobs continue to do what they were doing when the BJP's Raman Singh was in power: attacking churches and priests whom they accuse of conversion (the latest assault took place inside a police station; the police seemed happy that the police station wasn't damaged.
Last month, Muslim homes were attacked (external link) by BJP supporters in the town of Kawardha. 5000 policemen were on duty when this happened.
Raipur and Mumbai are not exceptions. Across the country, police have consistently supported Hindutva mobs and got away with this criminal unprofessionalism, whichever party has been in power.
No wonder Munawar Faruqui feels this is the end for him.
But there is one city where the artiste performed just 10 days back. He announced his show well in advance, tickets were sold out.
It is not as if the police there were super professional. They had nothing to do -- the Hindutva groups issued no threats there.
That city is Kolkata.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com