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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 8, February 13, 2010

Black and White


Thursday 18 February 2010, by SC


The recent decision on the part of South Block to resume Indo-Pak talks, despite no visible signs from the side of Islamabad that it was taking tangible steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terror operating from within Pakistan and directed against India, has evoked mixed reactions in this country. The forces of subcontinental peace desiring friendship and amity with Pakistan have received a boost with this decision of the Indian Government; of course their position has always been sought to be misrepresented by jingoists of all hues and they have been accused of seeking peace with Pakistan “at any cost”, an allegation that is totally baseless because precisely these forces too backed the government’s decision to call off the Indo-Pak dialogue in the aftermath of the horrendous 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.

It is in this context that one must take note of the observations of a seasoned analyst, the editor of The Tribune who is now a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. In one of the latest editorials in the Chandigarh daily, H.K. Dua incisively writes:

The 26/11 shock indeed caused a deep wound in India’s psyche. In running the affairs of a nation decisions and policies, however, have their life-span beyond which they get into a cycle of diminishing returns. Statesmanship and adept handling of diplomacy require not sticking to rigid positions but at times searching for new options suitable for the time and the country’s future needs. Wisely considered flexibility can be of enormous help at decision-making levels. Viewed in this perspective, the decision to begin Foreign Secretary-level talks by month-end speaks for the recognition of foreign policy requirements and promoting enlightened self-interest in a fast-changing world. Statesmanship also requires fashioning new policies to advance national interest...

It is possible the two Foreign Secretaries will work out their own agenda for their meeting. The talks are being held at India’s initiative and on Indian terms. Curbing terrorism and dismantling the terror infrastructure by Pakistan remains on India’s catalogue of demands. Pakistan can also raise issues of its convenience. By all means, tackling issues across the table is better than resorting to invectives and rhetoric that fan greater distrust and foul up the entire atmosphere…

One could not agree with him more on the issue.

There are, we know, other views on the subject as well. One of these is being articulated by the BJP and its allies. According to this view, the talks could have resumed only after Islamabad took the first concrete step, obviously under Indian pressure, against militants functioning with impunity and without let or hindrance on Pakistani soil. Another opinion is that the decision to resume talks could have been taken only after the return of the Union Home Minister who was to have gone to Pakistan (his visit has since been deferred). Yet another view, also coming from the BJP, is that PM Manmohan Singh was in a tearing hurry to change course vis-à-vis Pakistan as he was being pressurised by the US.

Articulation of differing views on any problem, and especially on such a major matter like Indo-Pak ties, is quite natural in a democracy. But what is most reprehensible is the way in which the Shiv Sena is taking its antipathy towards Pakistan to the extreme. Shah Rukh Khan, the matinee idol, has been targeted and his film My Name Is Khan is being sought to be prevented from being shown in Mumbai only because he made an innocuous statement that, in his opinion, Pakistani cricketers should have been allowed to participate in the IPL matches. For this statement he is being branded as pro-Pakistan and attempts are underway to ostracise him.

Actually it is the Sena’s deep frustration which is at work here. And hence what they are attacking is freedom of expression in this land which is justifiably described as the world’s largest democracy. But if one carefully analyses the Sena’s behaviour it would become transparent that Shah Rukh Khan is just a scapegoat, the real target is the Government of India for having decided to resume talks with Pakistan. Sena spokesmen are exposing this motive in their interactions with the media. At the same time they are totally incapable of comprehending how much damage they are causing, through their violent outbursts, to Indian democracy and the image of a tolerant society that this country enjoys in the world. However, it must also be admitted that the Sena could not have felt emboldened to go on a rampage had the State Government of Maharashtra not become a mute spectator to the violent activities resorted to by it and its sister organisation, the MNS, in the name of defending Marathi and Indian “pride”.

But the latest reports indicate that the intolerance of the Sena and its activists is not going unchallenged. Even in Mumbai, notwithstanding the Sena’s attacks on cinema halls where the film is to be screened, the owners of multiplexes (and even other halls) are defying the Sena ban on the movie and the common people are queuing up in large numbers to view it. And in Bengaluru the Shiv Sena’s associate, the Sri Ram Sene, is having a tough time enforcing its fatwa against observance of Valentine’s Day (February 14); Sena supremo Muthalik’s face has been blackened by those opposed to his antics with the result that the devil has now been forced to quote the scriptures, charging his opponents with “attacking democracy” and “taking law into their own hands” conveniently forgetting that barely a year ago Muthalik and his men had themselves indulged in similar anti-democratic and lawless acts by molesting women in a pub in the Karnataka capital and had defended those acts which, they explained, were intended to “save the traditional Hindu culture” (thus confirming their close affinity with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan).

In the midst of such developments the Union Government has decided to place a temporary “moratorium” on Bt brinjal whose effects on human and animal systems as also the ecosystem in general have yet to be fully evaluated as its harmful impacts on these systems have been brought to the fore by civil society. The role of the international seed corporations and their subsidiaries with their profit motives and commercial considerations has also come under the scanner in this connection. What is more, it is becoming increasingly clear that GM varieties, if introduced in one species of crops, affect all other crops through contamination. The positive value of democratic public intervention in such matters is thus coming out in bold relief because it is such intervention that has resulted in the welcome move by the concerned Minister to go for a complete reappraisal of what had been originally proposed and planned.

February 12 S.C.

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