The common man strikes back

Mr Pawar must see these incidents for what they are: they are desperate acts springing from extreme frustration

Man slaps Pawar, NCP hits Mumbai” went the headline in a local evening paper, and it really said it all. As news came in of Harvinder Singh’s slap, Mr Pawar’s party workers went berserk, blocking traffic in various areas of the city, from mid-town Worli and Saat Rasta to the distant suburbs of Mulund, Bhandup, Borivali,

Thane and Dahisar. As I write this the day after the incident, news is coming in of NCP workers continuing their rampage, forcing shops and offices to shut in various areas.
From all accounts, Harvinder Singh is an unremarkable fellow, living in an unremarkable Delhi area. He is said to own two auto-rickshaws, which are his main source of income. To round up the portrait of ordinariness, Singh lives in a rented apartment along with two brothers and parents. As far as one can see, he belongs to no political party and has no ideological leanings. So his attack on Mr Pawar is obviously the work of an individual, an individual described by his neighbours as “mentally disturbed” and having “a history of
violence”.
Given this, the reaction of Mr Pawar’s party workers seems bizarre. Had Singh been an important office bearer of a political party, you could have understood (though not
condoned) their anger. But given that Singh is a nobody all that we have is a breach of security. Why should the people of Mumbai be made to suffer
for that? Why does Mr Pawar not tell his men to lay off? Even more shockingly, why is a communal element being introduced, as if there is a Sikh versus Maratha angle to the incident?
Come to think of it, Mr Pawar’s actions, or lack of them, his supporters’ rampage and Singh’s slap are all part of the leitmotif of violence that is an intrinsic part of our public life. In a sense, violence has been part of every political party’s armoury. In some cases, this is “unofficial” (Congress’ Sikh killings of 1984, BJP’s Muslim killings of 2002); in others, an important element. The Shiv Sena is the prime example of the latter, but Marxist cadres in West Bengal aren’t too far behind. Then there is the Sena’s off-shoot — the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena — or the Samajwadi Party’s footsoldiers in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. Allied to this is the way people in authority deal with those who are below the social radar, an excellent example being the so-called investigative methods of our police who rely on third-degree methods to extract confessions and other convictions.
Only one element was missing to complete this vicious circle of violence, and that was for the victim to strike back. It hasn’t happened so far for many reasons: to start with, we are still a feudal society, with an in-built respect for authority, while the poor — the worst victims — are generally too cowed down to even think of
striking back. All of us though have a limit to our forbearance, for each one of us it’s this far and no further, and recent events have made us collectively cross that limit of tolerance. When was that exact moment? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but it was probably around the time the 2G scam was unravelling. We all know that the Anna Hazare movement became as big as it did not because of any charisma or leadership qualities exhibited by him, but only because the time was right. Singh’s slap was an act of extreme frustration: a few years ago, he might have felt like slapping a politician he thought was corrupt; now, given the change in our mindset, he actually did it. We have forgotten probably because no one protested but not too long ago there was another similar incident when another unbalanced man threw a chappal at former Commonwealth Games organising committee chief Suresh Kalmadi. Do you see the connection? If you don’t just think of this: Singh’s next target was Sukh Ram, former telecom minister.
Mr Pawar and politicians across all party lines must see these incidents for what they are: they are desperate acts springing from extreme frustration. The man on the street finds himself living in a society where the corrupt not only flourish, but also dictate his destiny. He can express the extreme rage he feels only through futile eruptions like Singh’s. There will be many more of these in days to come. They will not be suppressed by actions like the NCP workers’. They will only grow unless the root causes are addressed.

The writer is a senior journalist

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