By Javed Anand
Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1995. It was among the first things the Shiv Sena-BJP coalition sarkar did on coming to power in Maharashtra.
You might think the news has yet to reach ’em posh people who still refer to their quarter of the metropolis as 'South Bombay'. In fact, it’s SoBo now!
Bombay, remember, is the New York of the East: SoHo, SoBo. Folks at SoHo might be deeply embarrassed at this likening. But for SoBo, appearance is what matters, darling.
Why not SoMu? Don’t even go there! South here is not about geography, stupid. Dude, it’s all about attitude. The Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena can have their Mumbai so long as they let SoBo residents keep up their pretences.
Could SoBo symbolise a cosmopolitan resistance to the chauvinism of the Senas? Banish the thought, the SoBoietis love their Thackerays. (Perhaps Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, too.) Call it the mutual attraction of the bold and the beautiful.
At five-star get-togethers during the 1990s, SoBo’s beautiful people never squirmed when Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray routinely referred to Indian Muslims as “green snakes”. What to do: Muslims need to be taught a lesson.
Mr Thackeray, incidentally, was the main accused in the Srikrishna Commission’s report on the anti-Muslim pogrom of 1992-93. Commission reports: who cares? (One of the honourable exceptions among the glitterati and the celebrati was Dev Anand who walked out of a meeting of Bollywood biggies at which Thackeray senior tried to spread the communal virus in the Hindi film industry.)
That was then. Now we have a new kid on the block. And isn’t he cute: Raj Thackeray! We are told that on August 21 the new 'saviour' took 'a mature and restrained approach', reinvented himself, performed 'a political masterstroke', 'acquired a halo overnight'. How does a fire-breathing, violence-espousing, rabble-rouser turn into an instant 'rockstar'? Well, you better believe it for SoBo Mouthpiece (Shobhaa De’s August 25 column, Raj ki aag: The new face of Thackeray) says so.
SoBos can do all the fawning and swooning they like. But the fact remains that shorn of all the rapturous adjectives and hyperboles, the picture that Raj Thackeray painted of himself and his MNS on August 21 was far from pretty. Except for the gullible, it was true-to-type, ominous and worse. In less than 24 hours, his sainiks were to bare their fangs again. But let me not run ahead of the story. Let what Raj Thackeray did and said that day speak for itself first.
The rally was ostensibly to demand punitive action against the then police commissioner Arup Patnaik’s allegedly abject failure to enforce rule of law during the August 11 rally at Azad Maidan organised by some Muslim organisations. Though police had only given permission for a meeting at Azad Maidan, in characteristic style, Raj Thackeray insisted on a five-km rally from Marine Drive to Azad Maidan in brazen defiance of the police order, thus creating a traffic chaos for several hours.
In short, break the law to protest the (earlier) breakdown of law. The “savior of Mumbai” presumably must be permitted a few indulgences.
At the Azad Maidan, Raj Thackeray hammered home three points.
First, he claimed it was Bangladeshi Muslims who resorted to violence on August 11. In a thought-provoking article he wrote in 2006, former editor and Shiv Sena-backed Rajya Sabha MP, had rightly observed that 'pro-Pakistani Muslims' and 'Bangladeshi Muslims' are but euphemisms while you target Indian Muslims as a whole. Why the euphemisms? To escape possible prosecution under the anti-hate speech provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
Second, Raj Thackeray took great care, reminding the police rank and file that they were Marathi manoos above all else and only incidentally upholders of the Indian Constitution and the rule of law. Nothing new here. This was exactly the tactic employed by Thackeray senior during the late ’80s and the early ’90s: stoking the parochial instincts of the cops, communalising them right under the nose of a benign state. The outcome of his noxious brainwash was the shameful partisan conduct of the Mumbai police during the 1992-93 carnage.
That the young Thackeray’s message immediately hit home was evident when a constable in uniform, Pramod Tawde, marched up to the dias, presented a flower to the new messiah and proceeded to address the media in gross violation of all rules.
Talk to top police officers and you’ll know how alarmed they are at this ominous turn of events. Yeh andar ki baat hai, police hamare saath hai (To tell you a secret, the police are with us)” was an oft-repeated chant of the murderous mobs in Gujarat in 2002. SoBoietis seemingly don’t lose much sleep over such mundane concerns.
Thirdly, at a tangent to his agenda for the day, Raj Thackeray ridiculed the dalits’ recent demand that instead of gifting it to the builder’s lobby, the Maharashtra government should reserve the defunct Indu Mills’ plot for a memorial to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Within hours, outraged dalits from several parts of Maharashtra were burning effigies of Raj Thackeray.
Twenty-four hours later, a bunch of MNS toughies led by their corporator Sandeep Deshpande mercilessly pummelled a small group of dalit men and women who protested against the 'insult to Babasaheb' near Raj Thackeray’s residence. Among the women victims of the MNS ire were Puja Badekar and Vijayta Bhonakar.
“They misbehaved with us in the same fashion that some Muslims misbehaved (sexual assault) with police women constables at Azad Maidan on August 11,” they told this writer. Despite a heavy bandobust the cops took their time in restraining the attackers. When the victim dalits tried lodging a criminal complaint at the Shivaji Park police station, they were threatened with a 'rioting' charge and driven away.
All this, of course, is not news for the media, much less for our beautiful people. SoBo thinks a film on the new saviour with the title Raj ki aag might be a great idea. I think Aag ka raj may be more appropriate.
The writer is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy