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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 10

Danger Signal from Bombay

Sunday 24 February 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The time has come when we have to seriously ask ourselves if we are really serious about preserving in one piece this Republic of India. Many in our country think that to talk about disintegration of the Indian Union is just a fantasy with an over-dose of panic. They can’t take it that we may have taken the road to Bosnia.

Three months ago, this impression was widespread. It can’t happen here—was the average Indian reaction when the mighty USSR fell apart without a whimper, and when Yugoslavia’s break-up brought a lot of blood and tears. Today, particularly after December 6 at Ayodhya, has come out a fearsome calamity in its hideous manifestation in Bombay in the wake of Ayodhya. It has not really died down: the embers are hot and a flare-up can take place any day, any time.

The issue that projected itself at Ayodhya and then at Bombay is not just a Hindu-Muslim conflict. This has now taken the form of a direct assault on the authority of the Indian Union itself. One wonders if the leaders who indulged in the histrionics at Ayodhya on December 6 realised the implication of what they were doing.

What happened at Ayodhya on December 6 was not just a squabble for demolishing a Masjid to make room for a Mandir—however offensive such a move might be in a democratic order. More than the mosque-temple dispute was the outrageous assault on both the executive and the judicial authority of the Republic of India.

To gain a full view of the matter, taking into account all the serious implications of the swift destruction of the Babri Masjid, one cannot ignore how this has subverted the authority of the state power in the Indian Union. The Prime Minister had solemnly assured Parliament and reiterated it in his address to the nation on August 15 that the mosque would be protected pending its settlement by negotiation or the due process of law. The Supreme Court of India, through meticulous examination of all aspects of the dispute, extracted from the Government of Uttar Pradesh the categoric assurance that the mosque would be protected in the face of the huge assembly of people scheduled there on that day. By their swift operation razing the entire mosque, the authors of the operation not only accentuated the Hindu-Muslim tension with all its frightening consequences as was witnessed in the days immediately following December 6, but struck a direct blow at the authority of the Indian state since they by their action repudiated the solemn assurance of the chief executive of the Republic as also defied the mandate of the Apex Court of the Indian Union.

At that point of time, the overwhelming public concern was about the serious outburst of communal violence in many parts of the country. The damage to the fabric of the Republic was yet to be gauged. It was only when Bombay was once again engulfed in a vicious outbreak of violence a month afterwards, in the second week of January, that one could realise how the December 6 demolition had debilitated the authority of the Indian state.

It is to be admitted that the ghastly face of the mayhem in Bombay has not been adequately exposed to the rest of the country. It was no ordinary communal riot. The mob violence was part of a pre-arranged design. It was accompanied by the systematic killing of the Muslim population with extraordinary precision. Muslim houses were specially marked out, their occupants butchered and their belongings destroyed. Even after the mob violence subsided, as late as last week when this writer visited the city, an entire bustee was attacked with clinical precision. The operation was conducted by powerful arc lamps fixed on the neighbouring high-rise buildings. And from those buildings, fire-balls were thrown into the bustee at night, and when the bustee dwellers rushed out into the street, they were fired upon by the police for having violated the curfew. The fire brigade could not operate as its path was blocked by the gang whom the police would not touch. It was only the spontaneous intervention by some of the courageous neighbours that could get the Army to appear after a considerable lapse of time.

The storm-troopers of this brand of uninhibited fascism belong to the Shiv Sena, with its Fuehrer, Bal Thackeray, spitting venom against the Muslim community as also against all non-Maharash-trians working in Bombay. Extortion money is collected systematically from householders and shopkeepers, whoever come under the Shiv Sena spotlight. He brags about his hideous exploits in international press, while his actions and utterances are not only provocative but are calculatedly meant to terrorise the citizens of this country and are openly defiant of all laws. Shiv Sena notices in front of ration shops warn that no Muslim must be served the ration quota. In some of the factories, Muslim workers are finding it difficult to go back and rejoin work. Thousands of terror-stricken citizens have fled this metropolis, the hub of the nation’s commerce and finance.

A quick estimate of the total cost of Bombay’s riots prepared by the Tata Services indicates that the loss of gross value of output of goods and services would be Rs 1250 crores, loss to trading business Rs 1000 crores, loss of exports Rs 2000 crores, loss of tax revenue for the government Rs 150 crores and loss of properties worth about Rs 4000 crores. Tentatively thus the Bombay riots have already cost over Rs 8000 crores.

Going round the city and meeting a wide cross-section of its citizens from the corporate world to the activists at the grassroots, intrepid media- persons and senior executives of the advertisement world, professionals and educationists and retired government servants and ex-service officers, and trade unionists, one got the same story that the government in Bombay has virtually surrendered to the Shiv Sena, taking no measures to curb its nefarious activities with the police heavily saturated with the Shiv Sena supporters. Ministers from the Centre have been paying widely publicised visits to the hapless city, the Prime Minister himself paid a flying visit. But none is ready to halt the Shiv Sena, not to speak of punishing it. At the other end, the Sangh Parivar has virtually surrendered the leadership of their combined alliance to the Shiv Sena, reminding one about Bhindranwala bagging the Akali leadership.

There could be no better climate for putting Bal Thackeray in his place, and prevent the Shiv Sena’s unfettered mischief. Today Bombay has witnessed a groundswell of spontaneous activity of citizens from all sections in society to save the city. Relief and rehabilitation work have been taken up in full swing. Protecting the minorities, organising vigilance against Shiv Sena depreda-tions—all these have stirred the conscience of this great city. The affluent and the impoverished have been stirred in a manner never seen before.

There are no chicken hearts except in the government. More than the citizenry of Bombay it is the government, both in the State and at the Centre, who appear to have been scared and browbeaten by Bal Thackeray’s hoodlum gangs. If this monstrous phenomenon is permitted to roam around unfettered by the constraints of law, then that will be the beginning of the end of the Republic.

(Mainstream, February 13, 1993)

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