SOME members of the Shiv Sena smeared the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni, former L K Advani aide and currently chairman of the Observer Research Foundation, with black paint in Mumbai on Monday to show their anger against his hosting of launch of the book titled, ‘Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Relations’ authored by former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. The incident was an insult to the democratic spirit of India that tolerates different points of view. However, the insult became even more compounding with the Sena leadership, whose order presumably the Sainiks carried out, remaining unrepentant. The Sena in fact justified the attack on the ground that Kulkarni was a “Pakistan ka chamcha”. In defiance of the Sena bullying, Kulkarni gave interviews to TV channels with his head and shoulders soaked in black paint – a stirring image that is going to become one of the iconic images of violence still prevalent in our democracy. It goes to his credit that he held out a copy of the book with Kasuri for the TV cameras, to send out a message to the Sena leadership that he was not going to be cowed down by their intimidation.
The Sena had no basis to stop Kulkarni hosting the launch of the Kasuri book. The incident took place when he was getting into his car, when a group of Shiv Sainiks approached him. The Sena members asked him why he was going ahead with the event when they had told him not to. Now, the question is: can anyone organize an event in Mumbai only if it is approved by the Shiv Sena leadership? This amounts to appropriation of the supreme authority by a political party to decide who can undertake what public activity in Mumbai. Even though the event organizer has the approvals of the government and non-government authorities concerned they cannot go ahead if the Sena leadership tells them not to. This is a subversion of the lawful authority.
Secondly, the Sena leadership justified the violence against Kulkarni on the ground that it was a response to the violence Pakistan has carried out for the past six decades in this country. Sena leader Sanjay Raut said: “Every day our soldiers are dying and civilians are under attack. In Mumbai terrorists like Ajmal Kasab enter and kill our people and policemen. You don’t call that violence, but only when ink is thrown in your face you talk of violence. If this is violence, then what is happening in Kashmir, is that not violence?” What does the Sena leadership want to say – that if their Sainiks go on painting the faces of “Pakistan ke chamche” black before events in Mumbai, the terrorist organizations, and the Pakistani army establishment that promotes them, would stop carrying out violence in Kashmir and other parts of India? Would they be so frightened by the Sena’s ink attacks that they would drop their guns and agree to the terms India sets for peace?
There cannot be a more foolish illusion than that. All that the black paint attack on Kulkarni has done is to show to other Indians and other countries that although the tree of Indian democracy is growing its roots deeper and deeper one political party keeps shaking it to weaken its roots. It is a party that builds itself like other parties with the value of adult franchise, but prides itself on brazen transgression of the other democratic values. Sanjay Raut said, “Smearing ink is a very mild form of democratic protest. Nobody can foretell how public anger will explode.” The Sena calling the attack as “a very mild form of democratic protest” and threatening to unleash a higher form in explosion of public anger amounts to rewriting the values of democracy to enshrine violence as a legitimate way of expressing dissent!
Thirdly, the Sena justified the attack on the ground that Kasuri, when he was Pakistan’s foreign minister, met Hurriyat Conference leaders during his visit to India. It was Kasuri, the Sena said, who gave the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference leaders the idea to come under one roof as that would help Pakistan. “You are inviting the same Kasuri! He strengthened the Hurriyat and now you are telling us Kasuri is different. This is wrong.” If you agree with the Sena, no dialogue will ever be possible with Pakistan. The Sena’s view of Pakistan and Pakistani leaders is static: here is a country and here is a tribe of politicians that are never going to change their hostile and violent ways against India. Many countries that were sworn foes have solved their issues through dialogue. How we wish the Sena leaders leafed through the pages of Kasuri’s book in which he says how cross-border terrorism has caused immense harm to Pakistan. The perspectives of nations and a nation’s politicians can change according to their own experience and domestic and international circumstances. But the Sena has a frozen worldview.