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Political activism: What, here?

india Updated: Oct 22, 2012 01:07 IST
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Apolitical activist down from Delhi last week told me that he was disappointed with Mumbai’s apparent lack of interest in issues of national importance.

“Arvind Kejriwal’s protest against corrupt political parties has attracted international attention and is drawing huge crowds at Jantar Mantar or Ram Leela Grounds. What does your city have to offer?’’ he asked.

This is a classic symptom of the Delhi versus Mumbai tussle that extends across areas as diverse as politics, business, lifestyle and particularly cricket. I suspect it is no different from, say, New York versus Washington: inane and engaging at the same time.

The jury’s still out how beneficial are the methods of the India Against Corruption lobby. While the shenanigans of those in power as revealed by IAC are disturbing, new disclosures are putting a strain on the bonafides of Kejriwal and his colleagues.

That said, the contention of the activist from Delhi is not factually incorrect. Why, the city — and specially South Mumbai -- has earned notoriety for being blasé about even exercising its vote.

But there is an impertinence and ignorance in his question that needs to be addressed. Delhi, by virtue of being the country’s capital, obviously attracts most political activity, but the most significant action in the context of India’s freedom came from Mumbai.

This happened on August 8, 1942, at a smallish maidan in Gowalia Tank, down the road from Kemps Corner to Nana Chowk. Kids today play cricket and other games here, oblivious of the high drama seven decades ago.

This is the place, now popularly known as August Kranti Maidan, -- and not Mani Bhavan on Labrunum Road near Gamdevi where he would live -- from where Mahatma Gandhi gave the clarion call for the Quit India movement that galvanised an entire nation and signalled the beginning of the end of British rule in India.

Since Independence, Mumbai’s importance for political protest has admittedly diminished considerably. Yet, between 1975 and 1977 the city was buzzing with political activity, especially when top leaders of all political affiliations descended here to rouse public opinion against the Emergency.

This was during my college days, and I remember attending rallies at Crawford Market, Colaba and other areas featuring Jayaprakash Narayan, AB Vajpayee, LK Advani, Shahi Imam Bukhari as also Congress stalwarts such as Jagjivan Ram and Chandra Shekhar who had left the party in protest against Indira Gandhi’s autocratic ways.

Those were heady days of protest and rebellion against authority and the renegade politicians were pretty much the toast of discussion -- as much on the streets as in college canteens. That some of them rejoined Indira Gandhi later was to become a matter of great dispute and lament.

All this may or may not have any bearing on the current political climate. But it is clear that as in the Emergency years some great churn is taking place today too: with the outcome loaded with suspense.