Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cricket, Bombay and the politics of a paper tiger called Shiv Sena

Its sad to read in the papers today that "the Shiv Sena is still to decide" whether to allow Pakistan to play in Bombay or not. Now this is a topic very close to my heart and it evokes very strong and angry emotions from deep within as I am sure in does in your mind and heart:

1) Are we saying that decisions on who can play in India and who cannot, are taken by a local political party which incidentally is out of power? Who has given them the authority to take such calls? Surely not the people; because if the people supported them, they should'nt have been out of power.

2) Is Bombay outside India? Does one rule apply for India and a totally different one for Bombay? So Pakistan is allowed to play in India, but not in Bombay?

3) Why are the central and state governments not setting the tone of this discussion? Why is the Shiv Sena making the rules here? Why is there not one warning given to the Shiv Sena to stop their rhetoric or face action? Are the two governments so weak that they cant act against a local political party? This is where we should all grill the Congress and call it weak and ineffective; yet we never ask them these questions.

4) Is this the way a powerful nation responds to a weak, crumbling neighbour? Why do we give so much importance to Pakistan? Agreed, Pakistan is a pain in the butt for India and is a country that wants to harm India. But is this the way to handle the issue? In the past, after the Bombay attacks, we stopped the dialogue process with Pakistan - this is akin to the sulking of a child. Why cant we give a reply the right way? Why couldnt we warn them one last time not to interfere in our affairs? Why cant we show Pakistan its rightful place.....not by disallowing them from playing in our country; but by giving them the royal ignore?

5) What is the Shiv Sena's own agenda? Clearly, they are against North Indians (in the past they were against the South Indians).....and the Muslims (actually all non-Hindus). This is it? This is the sole basis of their existence? Do people really care about these issues? Is this why the people of Maharashtra have voted the Shiv Sena to power only once? Does the Shiv Sena not realize that even its partner, the BJP has made only limited gains when it adopted a strident anti-muslim stance?

It's not difficult to understand the compulsions that drive the Shiv Sena. Politically, it does not attract the following of the educated, modern intellengtia. Its constituency is made up mostly of locals, but not all locals. The educated Maharashtria that one meets in the professional world has no sympathies for the Shiv Sena. Its only the Maharashtrian migrants in Bombay; those who have been attracted to the city because of the job opportunties it provided; those who have seen these opportunites snatched away by more hard working and capable outsiders; who support the Shiv Sena. Shiv Sena cannot intellectually engage policy makers on economic issues. They may not even understand the macro and micro economic challenges that India faces; forget having a point of view on them. They may not even appreciate the way the world works.....that there are treaties that we need to honor; that maturity in handling global relations often requires us to under-play our anger and sentiments that we may feel towards our neighbours.

I can understand why they play the anti-muslim card - its the same reason that the BJP plays it - pandering to the very basic insecurities and emotions that Hindus have about Muslims. I can also understand why the Shiv Sena plays to the galleries when it comes to attacking the Biharis and UP-ites. Frankly, they use this card only in cosmopolitan Bombay. Its only in cosmopolitan Bombay that this issue has any relevance in the first place. Because Bombay has always attracted Indians from all over the country, the population of Bombay is very heterogeneous. Less than half of the population (actually only 39% in the last census) of Bombay has Marathi as its mother tongue. As much as 16% of the population is made up of Gujaratis; 10-12% are Hindi speaking and the remaining 20-25% is a motley mix of all that makes India. Bombay is the only city that has such a mix. In Delhi, 90% of the population has Hindi or Punjabi as its mother tongue. In Bangalore, Kannadigas make 62% of the population and the rest is outsiders - mostly South Indians; As a result, Bangalore suffers a similar fate at the hands of various parochial Kannadiga outfits. The day Delhi has a more mixed population (and that will be soon), some party will start playing similar games in Delhi.

But while this is understandable, is it something we can allow to continue? Is this the image of a modern India that we want to project to the world? That the main city of India has been held hostage by the whims of a local political outfit and has not yet decided whether it wants to allow Pakistan to play? What if Pakistan enters the finals? Will Bombay then not host the finals?

The real truth is that Shiv Sena is only paper tiger. The real tigers are in Kanha and Bandhavgarh! The real tiger is secure and walks past us humans with style and elegance and confidence and with its head held high. The roar of a tiger is strong....unlike the whimper of the Shiv Sena. The real truth also is that the Congress has been weak and ineffective in containing the Shiv Sena. It appears to be playing politics of its own. In the language of brands, the Congress is a different brand from the Shiv sena - an old-yet-modern, inclusive brand which focuses on economic development and social upliftment; but its trying to copy the Shiv Sena - a totally different brand whose entire existence is based on old fashioned, exclusivist, parochial concepts. Marketing gurus would advise the Congress to "focus" on its own positioning; rather than try to "widen" its brand appeal (called "falling between two stools" in brand marketing). Obviously, the Congress is harming itself by following this strategy. Its also harming the nation in the process.

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