Mumbai, Jai Ho!

Feb.15 : A very moving TV image of a young woman with her baby and husband outside a Mumbai multiplex to watch My Name is Khan moved me enormously. I know that it is not fashionable to applaud the spirit of Mumbaikars because many eminent citizens furiously replied to me during 26/11 terror attacks that “enough is enough”. At that time I felt uncomfortable and unhappy that applauding and encouraging a resilient spirit that refuses to be cowed down by terrorism, but resolves to pick up the pieces and fight back, was a great asset to any society and, should be limited by the indignation of feeling “enough is enough”. Mumbaikars have time and again proved their resilience, courage, never say die spirit and indefatigable helping nature, even in the face of the worst possible odds, including terrorist attacks. This time the people of Mumbai have come out openly in defence of democracy.

The young woman I saw on the TV screen said very simply, but very eloquently, “Boss, this is a democracy. We cannot allow anybody to dictate to us what and whether we should watch a movie... We wanted to prove that no threats could stop us from exercising our democratic rights”. And she put her money where her mouth was, by turning out in front of that Mumbai multiplex with her husband and baby, totally undeterred by the threats of violence, riots and intimidation by the Shiv Sena. That girl, in my view, symbolised the best of Marathi manoos. And also the pride of being Indian.The Shiv Sena claimed that their movement was a success. Bal Thackeray then claimed that he had never wanted Shah Rukh Khan to apologise to the Shiv Sena but had only wanted him to apologise to the nation. I have heard of face-saving statements to explain away the embarrassment of a defeat, but this statement is too incomprehensible to be, by any stretch of imagination, a face-saver. It can only be construed as an oblique admission of failure.It was, of course, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi who first called the bluff of the Shiv Sena. For decades, the Shiv Sena has held Mumbai to ransom with their vitriolic, unconstitutional, divisive policy of hate, invoking the plea of Marathi manoos. It was, of course, of absolutely no consequence to the Shiv Sena that Marathi asmita was, and is, a noble concept, embodying the best traditions of Marathi culture and having no connection whatsoever with the politics of hate propagated by them. The Shiv Sena started its work by attacking and targeting South Indians in Mumbai, completely concealing the fact that their far more noble predecessors, the Marathas, had ruled graciously over parts of Thanjavur, deep in Tamil Nadu, for over 179 years, and have left behind a glorious legacy of literature, architecture and history. That was the true spirit of Marathi manoos and I wonder who these present Shiv Sainiks are? Are they even aware of the deep Maratha connection with Tamil Nadu? One of India’s most eminent sons, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, revered by all countrymen for giving us our Constitution, was Maharashtrian. But are Shiv Sainiks aware that he was born in Madhya Pradesh? In my view, the Shiv Sena and its leaders are absolutely unworthy to even refer to Marathi asmita, leave alone pretend to uphold. And I say this as a proud Indian.Unnerved by Mr Gandhi’s popularity and huge appeal, particularly among the youth, Uddhav Thackeray desperate to find some issue on the heels of the third consecutive electoral drubbing given to his party by the Congress, declared grandly that the Shiv Sena would not let Mr Gandhi enter Mumbai. He followed that up with an obnoxious and undignified editorial in the Saamna which launched a vitriolic personal attack on him. Mr Gandhi, however, quietly stuck to his scheduled programme. The Shiv Sena threatened to show black flags and disrupt his programmes. He maintained silence and continued with his scheduled programme, even taking a ride on Mumbai’s local trains in the heart of Shiv Sena bastions. All the TV images showed local commuters sitting with Mr Gandhi, talking with him and being delighted that a leader like him chose to partake of their daily experience of train travel. Without uttering a single word he sent the Sena scurrying for cover, exposed in their inadequacy and lack of support among the people. A defeated Mr Uddhav Thackeray could only make some meaningless and feeble observation about Mr Gandhi having used an ATM! Now desperate for some attention and to salvage their reputation, the Shiv Sena turned to Shah Rukh Khan and his film — never mind that even according to the Sena there is nothing objectionable about the film — because of his purported comment about Pakistani players being allowed to play cricket in India. The Sena grandly declared that the new Shah Rukh Khan film would not be allowed to be released in Mumbai until he tendered an apology. “For what? To whom? For what crime?” asked Khan, in vain. The Sena did not reply, because there was no reply.Others asked different questions: There is an entire Aman ki Asha campaign going on in full swing to promote friendship with Pakistan, with many prominent personalities taking part. Why was that fine, but not Khan’s statement? Union home minister P. Chidambaram said exactly what Khan had said — why was there no criticism of the home minister? In fact, Bal Thackeray himself invited Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad to his home and there are well publicised photographs of the two standing together smiling away. How is that acceptable, but not Khan’s statement? Clearly because Shah Rukh Khan belongs to a minority community. Also because cinema is a soft target and multiplex owners and film producers, although apolitical people, are easy publicity, particularly because they stand to incur great financial loss. Thus the blackmail worked for some time.But February 12 was a good day for our democracy. Khan stood firm. The multiplexes stood firm. The Maharashtra government made sure that law and order was protected and anti-social elements kept in order. The police performed their job magnificently. Above all, the people of Mumbai stood up for democracy and refused to be intimidated. The Shiv Sena will now never be able to intimidate or blackmail innocent citizens or threaten the idea of India. Good for you Shah Rukh! Well done India! Hats off, Mumbai!Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.

Jayanthi Natarajan

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