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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2042

'Roti' On The Firing Line

By Tushar Pandit* – Syndicate Features

Whoever imagined that the humble ‘roti’ could be seen as an instrument in efforts to divide the voter on communal lines? That the word, roti, was almost universally used in news reports instead of the elegant ‘chapati’ is beside the point. A widely aired TV footage showed a Shiv Sena MP, Ranjan Vichare, egged on by his party colleagues, trying to push a ‘roti’ into the mouth of a fasting Muslim employee at the New Maharashtra Sadan (NMS) near the landmark India Gate in Lutyen’s New Delhi. It led to a nation-wide uproar that was to be expected.

Both the BJP and its ally, the Shiv Sena, in their damage-control exercise, expressed surprise why a ‘trivial’ incident was being magnified and given a ‘communal’ colour.

The surprise, however, is that the Shiv Sena MPs did whatever they did in front of the crew of a Marathi TV channel they had invited to the NMS. Normally, you would expect a restrained show in front of the cameras even when you are going to claim that the camera had ‘lied’. Even if one were to concur with the Shiv Sena-BJP duo that the incident ought not to be given a ‘communal’ colour it would be difficult to condone the act of the Shiv Sena MPs which was needlessly violent and undignified, certainly unworthy of elected representatives.

The ‘law makers’ appeared unrepentant at becoming law-breakers. Moreover, there are far too many instances that show the Shiv Sainiks as perennially on short fuse, ready to take the law in their own hands at the slightest excuse. It should also be kept in mind that the axiom ‘crime does not pay’ does not hold true in the case of our elected representatives.

The Shiv Sena MPs who today are being reviled would have earned some praise if they had shown their anger over poor quality of food served or the general deficiency in services at the New Maharashtra Sadan in a more befitting, non-violent way. In fact, the Shiv Sena can still redeem itself in the eyes of the public if it seriously takes up—non-violently—the malaise of bad services, food included, provided in government-run institutions.

The Shiv Sena members could perhaps utilise their talents better by starting a nation-wide agitation against the poor standard of hygiene in public places and the appalling quality of food served in government-run institutions. If they are unable to get rid of their penchant for attacking people they could turn to people who supply adulterated food, particularly the suppliers of midday meal to school children. Many young innocent lives have been lost and several times more have been hospitalized because the food supplied to them in schools had a dead cockroach, lizard or rat.

Shiv Sena leadership has to outlive its infamy and the BJP has to note it seriously. For long the Shiv Sena, for instance, has been talking loosely against non-Maharashtrians. It thinks the best way to show its disapproval for any written word in a newspaper or a book is to stage protests, demand a ban and hound the author. It is quick to see insult to the Marathi ‘manus’ but takes pleasure in denigrating Indians from other states, especially Hindi-speaking ones. Yet, the party is staunchly ‘nationalist’!

While it is possible to concede that the New Maharashtra Sadan incident was not a ‘communal’ act, the Shiv Sena would still be in the dock in the eyes of the public. Their history of violence goes against them. Their leaders like to talk rough and tough; moderation is not their strong point.

The ruling dispensation at the centre insists that the NMS incident was not ‘communal’ as the Shiv Sena MP did not know that the employee was a Muslim. It looked like a weak defence because the employee wore a name tag and was heard saying that he was observing the Ramadan fast. The issue would not have generated heat if the Shiv Sena and the BJP, had offered a quick apology, talked to the catering staff and come out with a more plausible defence: everything happened on the spur of the moment and in a fit of rage.

People indulge in all kinds of irrational acts when overcome by uncontrolled rage. Such actions are often dismissed as aberrations committed during a moment of insanity. The kind of defence offered by the Shiv Sena and the BJP to explain the NMS incident made it easy to give it a ‘communal’ colour.

After the thumping electoral victory in the Lok Sabha polls, the ‘communal’ BJP spread the word that it believed in the development of all communities, thereby suggesting that it should not be viewed as a party that discriminated against the minorities. The message was widely welcomed. But the trouble was that it did not reach many of the members belonging to the BJP itself and its ‘Parivar’ (family). Well-known ‘minority-baiters’ began to air their views quite frequently and more brazenly. These offensive and provocative words were not considered worthy of condemnation by the ruling party and its allies.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who regularly scoffed at the ‘maun’ (silence) of his predecessor before the Lok Sabha polls, has been observing total ‘maun’ on such matters—and, indeed, many other matters that require some response from him.

*The author is Delhi based senior journalist

- Asian Tribune -

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