Okay guys. Time for introspection. Raj on a rampage is news. Bad news. Raj's lock-up diet (chapattis, dal, vegetables, milk tea, bread) is not news
at all. And yet, media dished out every minute detail about Raj's short stay as a mehmaan of the Manpada police station. We were told about the bare room, the stark conditions, the change of clothes.... even how traumatic it must have been for Raj to slide out of his Merc and into a police van when he was picked up. Pages and valuable hours on TV were devoted to this meaningless info. The subtext read differently, of course. By projecting these images ad nauseum, the sense people were getting was that of an omnipotent demi-God being subjected to the rough treatment reserved for lesser mortals. In the process, Raj the Tyrant was converted into Raj the Martyr. His supporters must be jubilant. Even the canniest spin doctors from Barack Obama's camp could not have orchestrated a greater media coup. A few hours of sitting it out in a lock-up generated more national and international publicity for a man who was virtually unknown less than a year ago.
How did Mumbai react? Well, going by the raucous birthday celebrations at Chhagan Bhujbal's swanky bungalow in South Mumbai the same night (complete with laser beams and Bollywood hits from the 60s), i would say Mumbai was rocking as usual, give or take a few burnt buses and cars, several smashed windshields, stampedes, arson, rioting mobs, rock-hurling goons, shuttered shops, cowering taxi drivers and the odd Mumbaikar who stayed put watching the mayhem on TV, and imagining the entire city was burning. Apathy or a state of denial? Indifference or arrogance? Is there something wrong with all of us in this crazy megapolis? I was at a dinner party for top American lawyers where the conversation had little to do with the violence taking place just a few kilometers away and more with networking and deal making. Yes, the music from Bhujbal's birthday bash happening across the compound wall was a nuisance. But it was largely business as usual. Just one solitary voice was heard expressing anguish over the ghastly situation. It belonged to a Marathi Manoos - a prominent lawyer and Raj's neighbour at Shivaji Park. He expressed his rage at the nasty developments and repeatedly castigated Raj, saying the educated Marathi Manoos was unambiguously opposed to such goondagiri and ashamed to be tarred by the same brush. He sounded genuinely pained at the political implications, arguing that the new alliances being forged via violence and hatred, would seriously damage Mumbai's interests, commercially and culturally. But that the environment of insecurity generated by the MNS would inevitably culminate in unhealthy alignments during the coming elections.
Mumbai is at a key crossroad right now. If the average Mumbaikar keeps mum and remains a passive bystander, we will be handing over the city to unruly elements out to exploit the dreadful situation still further. As a Maharashtrian myself, I wonder where our outspoken intellectuals have disappeared? Why are they silent? I hate to think they are afraid... or worse, that they tacitly endorse what is going on in the name of protecting Maharashtrian interests. Maharashtra has always taken pride in its outstanding 'Thought Leaders'. Surrender and fear were never the options. Raj has a political objective. But what about a moral one? As I watched the disturbing coverage flashed repeatedly across international TV channels, my heart broke. For those of us who are homegrown Mumbaikars, heavily invested (emotionally and cerebrally) in this great city, we have everything at stake - most of all a sense of pride. This wanton approach to settling political scores, grabbing power, killing innocents, is both tragic and insulting. Raj's tryst with destiny (and Indian jails!) may have just begun. But Mumbai's tryst with history is far more important. We must not allow Mumbai to be cold-bloodedly bartered. Speak up! From Raj to Swaraj - let's go for it!
6 months ago