Comparisons are odious but there has been a slight element of gloating over the fact that India is happening while Pakistan has been pushed into the shadows at 60. Our multiculturalism, secularism and democracy are our USPs while the image of Pakistan tends to be one of intolerance of all forms. But the sort of attack witnessed on newsmagazine Outlook’s offices in Mumbai, recently, should serve as a wake-up call that there are more than a few rotten apples among us. The attack was apparently carried out by Shiv Sena activists enraged that their supremo Bal Thackeray had been portrayed in an unflattering light in the magazine’s ‘Independence’ issue. Though the Sena has denied it, not too many will buy that, given the outfit’s record.
The Sena is not alone in this. Only last week, we witnessed an unseemly attack on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen by the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) in Hyderabad. These self-appointed guardians of morals and public sentiment have done great disservice to India’s image at a time when it is testing the waters of the big league. Before this, in 2004, the pro-Maratha Sambhaji Brigade trashed the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune to protest against a book stocked there, which allegedly contained derogatory references to Shivaji and his mother. In the process, rare manuscripts were destroyed. In all these instances, what is most worrying is that the miscreants get away with it. In fact, worthies in some of these organisations actually come up with the excuse that they can do nothing to restrain their flock that invariably acts out of ‘hurt sentiment’.
Attacks on artistes like MF Husain, against the Maharaja Siyajirao faculty of fine arts in Vadodara, and, to our eternal shame, that on Babri masjid show that intolerance and bigotry are never too far from the surface. These nefarious elements in no way represent what the majority thinks or aspires to. They are far more concerned with bread-and-butter issues like poverty and employment than perceived insults to certain leaders or cultural values dictated by a misguided minority. This has sustained Indian democracy and the ideals that great leaders like Gandhi and Nehru propounded.