Bombay, Bambai and Mumbai

India does not value the life of its citizens. If it did, the Maharashtra government would have put a summary end to the hooliganism on display in its major cities by members of Raj Thackeray’s MNS, which was a direct result of his statements on a North Indian threat to the Maharashtrian way of life. And an innocent person would probably have not lost his life.

There are two sides to the story. One, should Raj Thackeray be allowed to get away with making inflammatory statements? It might come as a surprise to some (or maybe not), but I would say yes. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to say anything short of issuing a direct threat. Saying inflammatory things about UP and Bihari migrants, calling them bhaiyyas is hardly something to lose sleep over. You may not like it. But that is that. Two, what should be done with the ‘spontaneous’ venting of outrage by MNS workers. As soon as Raj Thackeray’s message got out, like clockwork, workers of his party descended onto Bombay roads and beat up hawkers and taxi men. The Samajwadi Party and their national and local leaders like Amar Singh and Abu Azmi, and various other leaders poured oil into the fire and things got out of control. And the government and police watched on. It is here that they should have acted. If they thrown all rioters behind bars, things would not have gotten out of control. But Indian politics is known more for its malevolent streak and fumblings than for a commonsensical approach to important matters. The politicians will set the police on writers and painters and anyone who says something they don’t agree with, but will allows mobs to go on a rampage without doing anything about it.

After twiddling its thumbs for the better part of the week and plotting ways of gaining the upper hand on the political front, various factions that make up the government finally decided that enough was enough. And then followed the drama of Thackeray and Azmi being arrested and being let out on bail within hours. In all this, the ‘original’ sons of the soil party – the Shiv Sena – found that Raj had pulled the carpet from under their feet. And so Uddhav Thackeray threw in a few choice sentences of his own.

There was a lot of talk on constitutional guarantees on right to seek employment anywhere in India, and how Raj Thackeray’s comments were anti constitutional and designed to incite violence and all that. But when you cannot guarantee the right to free speech for most people and cannot protect them from coercion, intimidation and bodily harm, what is the point going on about how constitutional guarantees?

Till the government stops intimidating its citizens, and stops fiddling while mobs beat up people making a mockery of the law, such incidents will keep on repeating themselves. And I will find myself writing the same thing on the same topic again and again and again….

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