Anti-noise campaigners and some residents of Shivaji Park are taking things too far by saying no political rallies should be allowed at the maidan.
Why shouldn’t they? Shivaji Park is not the exclusive preserve of those who live in the area. It belongs to all of Mumbai, and it certainly belongs as much to the city’s political parties as it does to citizens.
In fact, the city and its politics are inextricably linked, and the historic maidan is proof of our political heritage. During the freedom movement, people from opposite ends of the political spectrum such as Gandhi and Savarkar addressed rallies at the Park; in the heyday of the labour movement, SA Dange and SM Joshi enthralled listeners here; during the Samyukta Maharashtra movement in the 1950s, people from disparate political ideologies came together and mobilised people in their thousands; and Bal Thackeray has, from 1966, addressed a crowd of more than a lakh here, every year, on Dussehra day.
The ground has seen Vajpayee’s oratory, filled with pregnant pauses, as well as Modi and Ramdas Athavale’s pauseless polemics; it has seen Indira in her pomp, the various avatars of Sharad Pawar – as Congress leader, PULOD architect and NCP chief – and it has seen Sonia Gandhi make an impressive political debut in the city.
The MMRDA grounds can never replace the Park as a place for political mobilisation not only because of this tradition but, equally, because of its central location: while the BKC ground is in the middle of nowhere, the Park is close to a railway station and allows easy access to people from across the city.
The frequency of political rallies is also not a problem. They are held mostly during election season, and the Shiv Sena’s Dussehra rally takes place once a year – in truth, it takes up just a few hours.
The argument that cricket pitches are damaged during rallies, too, is specious. I have known the place for long, have attended numerous rallies there, and have hardly seen much damage done. Crucially, never have Mumbai’s cricketers, many of whom are politically conscious, objected to rallies. So if some of us who care about cricket don’t mind, why do others do?
The most worrying thing is that the anti-politician sentiment voiced by some activists may metamorphose into an anti-politics agenda. Politics is at the heart of democracy, and there will be anarchy if political parties are denied the democratic right to articulate their views on various issues. Silence zone or not, the agenda cannot be to cleanse the city and the nation of politics but to cleanse politics of corruption by way of political and electoral reforms.
So let not only Balasaheb, but all political leaders speak up. Some noise can actually be good for democracy.