12/2: Is it the beginning of a new Mumbai?
As the dust settles on the Shah Rukh vs Shiv Sena episode, television channels are quick to proclaim Mumbai and Mumbaikars as having ‘defeated’ the Sena. If only the truth was that simple, writes Rahul Bose.mumbai Updated: Feb 14, 2010 01:35 IST
As the dust settles on the Shah Rukh vs Shiv Sena episode, television channels are quick to proclaim Mumbai and Mumbaikars as having ‘defeated’ the Sena. If only the truth was that simple.
The fact is, this is the first time in my 40 years of living in Mumbai that the law and order machinery of the state has done its job in the face of a threat. Seeing this, the Mumbaikar has been only too happy to go and watch My Name Is Khan. Had there been no security arrangements, I am certain that the halls would not have exhibited the film, and the few that would have would have run near-empty.
This would have been in complete sync with the way the Mumbaikar has behaved in the past. We shrank into our one BHK when, in 1992, Muslims were being targeted by right-wing Hindu mobs; When greeting cards outlets were vandalised on Valentine’s Day; when taxis were pelted with stones; when films were disrupted in multiplexes; when stores were broken because their signs were not displayed in Marathi.
Clearly, Mumbai has yet to discover its collective soul, its moral compass. But there are signs of change. The first step was 26/11. Yes, the enemy was foreign, the state government did not have to calculate the political cost of condemning it, the cause was ‘safe’ — middle-class Mumbaikars could vent their anger without fear of angering any right-wing faction.
Still, it was the first time we hit the streets.
And now there’s 12/2. (Mark the date. It might be the beginning of a new Mumbai, even Bombay, if we are lucky.) The Mumbaikar steps out again. We could very well have not believed the state Home Minister when he assured us of our safety. Given our past experiences who would have blamed us?
So what worked this time? Well, definitely Shah Rukh for one. His charisma is not to be underestimated. Add to that a sense in the city that he was being unfairly targeted.
Equally important, there’s also a growing feeling of ‘enough is enough’. We are beginning to be aware that if we don’t assert ourselves, the two right-wing political parties will tear us apart. Third, I also believe that it is now clear to the central government that the battle for Mumbai goes right to the heart of the idea of a secular, democratic India.
So what’s the road ahead for the Mumbaikar? How can we build on this momentum?
The answer lies in two questions. Will the state government activate 30 per cent of its police forces if you or me are under attack and <our> livelihood is under threat? Second, what if the issue is not so black and white? What if it is a politically trickier problem, say, taxi drivers in Mumbai refusing to learn Marathi, arguing that, under the Constitution, knowing Hindi is enough, and the Centre backs them? What then?
Do we have an assurance that the state government will never again base a decision on how it plays out politically? Do we have an assurance that no matter who we are, we can expect security arrangements of the scale as seen on Friday should we need it? (In all fairness, I would like to say this to our Chief Minister: thank you and please do this again and again, because I am sure it feels good for you too.)
And if the government fails to provide security the next time round, Mumbaikars, stand up, demand accountability, demand action. Shame it into action by coming out in numbers and jamming the streets outside Mantralaya.
You might be surprised at the response.