From far, even a fire looks like a nice little spark


BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: As Raj Thackeray follows his uncle Bal Thackeray‘s footsteps in trying to tap revanchist linguistic and regional sentiments, we need to take a look at how such verbal and physical chauvinism will affect the political landscape not just in the short and medium term, but even in the long term.

Most of us get too caught up in the here and now, but the potential long-term impact of our actions, big, small and medium, could be devastating if not handled with due care.

How many, for instance, will attribute 9/11 which has now already resulted in two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) to Mohammed Ali Jinnah‘s two-nation theory? In the short term, the creation of Pakistan resulted in the death of millions during Partition. In the medium term, it led to the Kashmir problem, with both countries spending obscene billions on defence rather than on development. And in the long term, a theocratic Pakistan gave birth to fundamentalist Taliban, which in turn nurtured Osama bin Laden‘s Al-qaeda, which was behind 9/11.

Raj Thackeray’s poisonous brew may not seem as potent, at least not at this juncture, but we would be acutely myopic if we do not envisage what it could unleash in the long run.


When our States were reorganised on the basis of language, it was hailed by many, but C. Rajagopalachari dismissed it as a “tribal idea”. Today, when India stands divided—by regional political parties, by language chauvinists who are unable to put their perceived interests over that of the nation—guess who seems prophetic?

East Pakistan declared independence from the West, despite what Jinnah thought was the unifying religion. Telangana wants to separate from Andhra Pradesh, despite what Potti Sriramulu thought was the unifying language. So, who is to guess where the calisthenics of Raj Thackeray and his blood-brothers and sisters across the nation, will lead to?

Emotive appeals on the basis of religion, region and language obviously helps “leaders” to carve out the mass base in the short-term that is required for their long-term personal, electoral and financial sustenance. But where does it leave their long-suffering subjects, on whose behalf they claim to act, when they are least interested in tackling the “core” issues?


By that yardstick, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV) is certainly less organized, politically, compared to Shiv Sena or its branch office, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and possibly less militant as of now. Its vigilante actions even seem to draw the silent cheers of the Kannada cognoscenti, but what is its commitment to the all-important issue of education, for all its vacuous claims of batting for the battered Kannadiga?

Here’s a good example to show that KRV, like the MNS and Shiv Sena, seems only too happy to pick easy targets, instead of tackling the root cause of our social and economic ills.

Exactly a year ago, on 21 February 2007, Pratham Mysore, an NGO involved in educating the poor children in the slums of Mysore for the last five years, held a function to release a booklet titled “State of Education in Mysore”. The chief guests invited to do the honour of releasing the magazine were four slum children, who were beneficiaries of Pratham’s efforts.While addressing the gathering, Ashvini Ranjan, Pratham Mysore’s managing trustee, stated that just like we were participating in large numbers to agitate against the Cauvery tribunal’s verdict, we should launch an agitation for the improvement in the education system which is depriving the slum children today.

He also stated that when he had a sister living in Tamil Nadu, how he could deny water to her? We need an equitable policy, was the message, but the bottomline was that we also need to focus on the big picture.

To our surprise, the next morning Andolana, a local Kannada daily, published a news item with the headline, “Instead of agitating for Cauvery, agitate for education is the opinion of Pratham trustee.” Most other papers either did not discuss his comment on Cauvery water or did so accurately.

But the inaccurate newspaper report was enough for members of the KRV to march to and attack the offices of Pratham, ransacking it, uprooting the sign boards, breaking the windows, and eventually locking it up. When an FIR was filed by Pratham, these agitators were taken into police custody.

According to Andolana, the agitators were warning that they would not tolerate anyone who spoke against the Cauvery agitation. Every one who lives and breathes in Karnataka should take part in the agitation or at least remain silent. If any one speaks against the Karnataka agitators, they would not tolerate and fight them relentlessly.

The stone throwing and locking-up of our offices, as reported in the newspapers, caused not just physical damage resulting in some financial losses, it also created incalculable psychological trauma to many of our girl-teachers who are mostly from the slums. Some of them were in the office that day. It might have also created a wrong opinion in the minds of the public.

KRV did not stop their efforts to “protect” Kannadigas with vandalising the Pratham office. They later peacefully agitated to put behind bars Ashvini Ranjan for unnecessarily causing public disturbance by raising the Cauvery issue.


The question that arises is: Who gives this right to KRV to make such open threats? Who gives the right to Raj Thackeray to threaten North Indians to up and leave or “we will have to lift our hand”?

The question also arises: How do we fight for Kannada and Kannadigas? And for Marathi and Maharashtrians?

Do we create the institutional framework, with all the checks and balances, to educate them and empower them to seek better employment and become responsible citizens? Or do we throw them to the supra-constitutional wolves who choose targets at whim, vandalise public property, and verbally and physically threaten those who hold a view contrary to theirs?

Raj Thackeray’s MNS, like KRV, may claim that they have every democratic right to express their views. But so too do others. They too have a democratic right to express their view. But neither MNS nor KRV have the democratic right to use brute force to shut out those who may disagree with their views; or to achieve their own, chosen ends.Democracy is built on debate, discourse and discussion. By eliminating it, we may get the illusion of having accomplished our objectives in the short to medium term, but in the long term we could be playing with fire, the scale of which we can only guess at this moment—and from this distance.

Photograph: Yesteryear cinema star Waheeda Rehman lends a hand at a Pratham initiative to take education to the slums.

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