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India: Shiv Sena Chauvinists Blacken the face of book release organiser in Bombay: Editorial commentary

14 October 2015

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The Indian Express - 13 October 2015

Editorial: A black mark
Shiv Sena’s attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni is part of a pattern of intolerance that is spreading on the BJP government’s watch.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, Shiv Sena workers, Shiv Sena, shiv sena, shiv sena activists, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Sudheendra Kulkarni Shiv Sena, Shiv Sena Sudheendra Kulkarni, Kasuri book launch, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri book, Shiv Sena party, shiv sena news, Mumbai news, India news
Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai, with his face smeared with black ink, speaks to journalists in Mumbai, India, October 12, 2015. (Source: Reuters)

Sudheendra Kulkarni, once a valued insider at the PMO and now a target of the Shiv Sena’s streetfighters, has become the visible face of the problem the state government and the ruling party are ducking. Bizarrely, the Sena has sought to project its agitation against the release of a book by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, former foreign minister of Pakistan, as a nationalist struggle. Earlier, it had striven to protect Mumbai from the popular Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali. And Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, while promising stringent security for the book launch in Worli, has added to the fog by affirming that no “anti-India propaganda” would be tolerated. Meanwhile, the silence at the top echelons of the NDA government at the Centre is harming India’s image more than any propagandist. Silence speaks of tacit support, and the signal is being read loud and clear.

Silence is precisely what the writers who are returning their awards to the Sahitya Akademi or quitting membership of the organisation or its committees, as if in unison, are protesting. The autonomous Akademi is their declared target for the sin of failing to protest the killings of writers and rationalists who have been murdered in cold blood. But they are not condoning the silence of the Central government on the beef controversy either. The prime minister has spoken of the Dadri lynching and the sudden politicisation of beef very reluctantly. And, in effect, he referred the matter to the president. His ministers have made the appalling insinuation that the incident was only a law and order issue, and that protesters have lent it a communal air. There is a pattern to these incidents, and it has created the impression that interested parties can let ink, hate speech or blood flow at will, without fear of consequences or penalties.

The BJP’s silence has allowed the Shiv Sena, laid low electorally, to wrest the political agenda in Maharashtra. Nationally, while the prime minister was trying to clock maximum TV mileage for the Bihar elections, which began on Monday, Dadri was taking away the headlines. The BJP’s excellent publicity machinery, which had swept away all competing communications during the campaign for the general election last year, is evidently failing to contain the slide. These events are sending contrary signals to foreign powers, including those in our region, which the prime minister has cultivated energetically. A few words from him could turn the tide back in favour of a liberal society, but he chooses to let silence do the talking.

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The Telegraph - 14 October 2015

Editorial: Black out

The Shiv Sena in Mumbai has shown India and the world that ink and paint could be used in many ways in a modern democracy. It has not taken long for Sudheendra Kulkarni’s outrageously blackened face - after Shiv Sainiks attacked him on his way to the launch of a book by Pakistan’s former foreign minister - to become an icon of national disgrace. Mr Kulkarni participated in the event, together with his guest from Pakistan, without washing his face, and, apart from what it said about the Shiv Sena, his face provided a darkly ironic comment on what Bharat had achieved after one year of the prime minister trying to make it swachh. The Sena’s characteristic hooliganism has been met, of course, by the prime minister’s characteristic silence. This has been described - unfortunately by a Congress spokesman - as a kind of "match fixing". But not only the prime minister (who is, after all, too busy campaigning in Bihar or proclaiming India’s glory to the world to be bothered about such banalities), but the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra and at the Centre has also been more or less silent about its oldest ally’s latest fit of bigotry. Only one BJP veteran, L.K. Advani, has spoken up. This silence has been filled with the Shiv Sena chief’s description of the attack on Mr Kulkarni as a perfectly valid form of protest against an anti-national event. The head of the Yuva Sena called it "non-violent, historic and democratic", thereby overturning the civilized world’s understanding of non-violence, history and democracy.

Mumbai is, of course, quite used to such thuggery from the Shiv Sena. Artists, writers, performers, sportspersons and ordinary citizens, visiting the city or living in it, have been frequently bullied into giving in to the Shiv Sena’s aggressive likes and dislikes, no matter who is in power in the state. A singer from Pakistan was stopped recently from performing in the city; cricket pitches have been dug up in the past to prevent teams from Pakistan playing on them; exhibitions have been shut down and senior artists forced to leave the country; men and women roughed up regularly for observing something as anti-national as Valentine’s Day; and workers, students and examination candidates from other states made to flee for their lives for outraging the Sena’s cultural chauvinism. No wonder, then, that Mumbai’s modern sainiks would use ink and paint not to express, but to efface, the idea of the modern.

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The Indian Express - 14 October 2015

Disappearing city

Lumpenism of the Sena, pusillanimity of mainstream parties, ensure that Mumbai is losing sight of itself.

By: Express News Service | Updated: October 14, 2015 12:36 am

Sudheendra Kulkarni, Shiv Sena, Sudheendra Kulkarni Shiv Sena, Kasuri book launch, Khurshi Mahmud Kasuri book, Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, Mumbai news, India news
Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai, with his face smeared with black ink, speaks to journalists in Mumbai, India, October 12, 2015. (Source: Reuters)

The attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni for organising the launch of former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book is only the latest reminder that the idea of Mumbai is under siege. Be it outbursts and attacks on “outsiders”, on migrants from the south and the north, or the bans on, in no particular order, the observation of Valentine’s Day, dance bars, lingerie mannequins and beef-eating, there is a steady and continuing erosion of its liberal, cosmopolitan spirit. This has been accelerated by the inability or unwillingness of successive state governments to resolutely take on communal, communitarian and parochial groups. This failure has consequences, not just for a city that has always dreamed big, but also for the country whose aspirational and international face it represents.

Just days before it attacked Kulkarni, the Shiv Sena’s thuggery had prompted the cancellation of a concert by Pakistani musician Ghulam Ali. Both instances should have caused severe embarrassment to the BJP, which also rules at the Centre and for whom the Sena is an alliance partner. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis hastened to assure that “the state will provide full protection to the programme”, but given his government’s blemished record on the protection of individual freedoms and liberties, it seemed a tepid guarantee. Not surprisingly, the concert organisers showed little confidence in the state’s assurance. Later, Fadnavis appeared to almost grudgingly offer security for the book launch, warning, in the same breath, against any “anti-India propaganda”.

A city that is seen to so frequently bow to the diktat of vigilante groups cannot hope to achieve its ambitions of rivalling a New York or London and transforming itself from a mere megacity to an international finance centre (IFC). Like other cities, Mumbai too is a site of convergence, of intense collaboration, innovation and opportunity, not least because of its dependence on migrants and the egalitarian promise that anyone from anywhere can make it big. But more and more, instead of Mumbai reaching out to its young and restless, it is threatening to shrink into an archipelago of neighbourhoods. The high-powered committee that assessed Mumbai’s IFC potential noted in its 2007 report that it “needs to be seen… as a welcoming, cosmopolitan and cultured metropolis” to realise its goal. Mumbai — and India — cannot demand a place at the global high table while limply acquiescing to bullying and chauvinism. Its politicians appear to have forged a multipartisan consensus on illiberal politics. The challenge for those who want to save the city is to resist the tide.

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Deccan Herald, 14 October 2015

Editorial

Ink-smeared face, a blot on tolerance

Oct 14, 2015, DHNS

The Shiv Sena acted true to its character and colours when it blackened the face of author and columnist Sudheendra Kulkarni who had organised the launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Mahmud Kasuri’s book in Mumbai on Monday. It was only last week that a concert of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali was cancelled in the same city after threats from the Sena. It is not only the Sena’s actons but also the failure of the BJP-led state government that should be condemned and denounced. The Sena is a partner in the Devendra Fadnavis government. It had, in public, announced that it would not allow both functions to take place. It is only because Kulkarni decided to go ahead with the book launch, even after being smeared with ink, that the function took place. Fadnavis offered protection for the event only if no “anti-India propaganda” was carried out there. But who is to decide what is anti-India?

The Shiv Sena has a shameful history of intimidation, threats and violent acts against linguistic, religious and other minorities. It has also built up an anti-Pakistan plank which it has used during the visits of Pakistani cricket teams or leaders, artists and others. There is already an atmosphere of intolerance and pressure on minorities in the country and it is getting thicker by the day with attacks on individuals and institutions, offensive and aggressive statements and failure on the part of authorities to curb such words and actions. The country’s cherished principles of freedom and democracy are continuously being challenged. The idea of secularism, the space for dissent, the plurality of people and lifestyles and the need for their co-existence, are all being contested by a majoritarian view which seeks to impose itself by force on others. It is a violation of the spirit of the country as it has been lived through ages and of the constitutional core of the state we have created and given to ourselves.

There is no pretence that the attacks, like that on Kulkarni, were emotional responses made on the spur of the moment. The Shiv Sena has owned up to the attack and has said it was planned, and the party is proud of what it did. The explanations about the party’s political problems with the BJP as the reason for the attack cannot hold water. Whatever the excuse, there is no reason to prevent the publication of a book, much less to attack the author or others associated with it. The ink-splattered face of Kulkarni is a shameful sign of our intolerant times and will haunt us.

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The Statesman - 14 Oct 2015

Editorial:

Spreading darkness

It was not only the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni and Mumbai that was blackened. The nation was shamed, or should be, at the latest manifestation of the intellectual darkness spreading viciously as the political climate now testifies to a shrinking of the space for liberal thinking. Only in a very immediate context can the ugly happenings be seen as a fall-out of BJP-Shiv Sena turbulence, the bigger picture points to a failure of governance - the basic right of security being denied because political convenience takes priority. To suggest that the Shiv Sena has behaved in similar if not worse fashion before provides small comfort.

The Sena leadership has been emboldened, thrilled at having secured its pound of putrid flesh, never mind that it were the core essentials of democracy that bled. If in the past Congress governments were guilty of allowing the menace to flourish the BJP is proving equally pathetic: it lacks the guts to risk its government in Maharashtra by terminating the alliance. If the chief minister is serious about preventing a “banana republic” he must be prepared to rid himself of a dubious prop - he would stand tall by breaking off the relationship rather than stomach the series of insults the Sena has been dishing out in recent days.

Is there any other way in which Devendra Fadnavis (Mr Narendra Modi too) can retrieve the space surrendered to the Sena? Or does the policy of “grin and bear it” kick in? The platitudes aired at the function to release Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book ring hollow, and with due respect to Mumbaikars few beyond the western metropolis hail its “spirit”. That chapter of Bombay’s history was closed long years ago.

The BJP’s advocates would roil at any linking of the Sena’s latest shenanigans with the electoral-fuelled communal passions that have flourished over the past 16 months: in fact some might deem both parties to have operated in tandem - it is so convenient, yet always criminal, to project an overlap between Muslim and Pakistan. And the NDA has no problem with that.

To note that New Delhi’s criticism of the Sena’s latest disgrace has been rather mild is not surprising, maybe it was secretly thrilled that another peacenik was targeted, even if the government’s bombast has had little impact on the fiery border. More likely Amit Shah and his henchmen would be looking at the incident from another perspective - its impact on the Bihar vote. For that would now appear the sole priority, the prism through which the tattering of India’s “fabric” is being perceived. A prism that does not reveal that polarisaton could easily fertilise the soil for jihadi elements to sow their poisonous seeds.

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Op-Ed’s:

The Indian Express

Ghulam Ali’s forced absence is a blow to Mumbai’s capacious cultural space
The city where Ghulam Ali cannot sing gave Bade Ghulam Ali Khan a home.

Written by S Gopalakrishnan | Updated: October 15, 2015 8:54 am

Shiv Sena, Ghulam Ali, Ghulam Ali concert, Ghulam Ali concert cancelled, shiv sena Ghulam Ali, Ghulam Ali Mumbai concert, indian express news
Ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali performs in Lucknow on Saturday. The governments of Delhi and West Bengal too have invited him to perform. (Source: PTI)

If Ghulam Ali is refused a stage in Mumbai, the loss is not his. His forced absence is a huge blow to the capacious cultural space of the city that played a definitive role in shaping classical and popular music in India since the mid-19th century. When the protective performance space offered by the royal courts for musicians across northern India started shrinking, it was the emerging cultural milieu within the industrial urban spaces of Bombay that wholeheartedly welcomed these orphaned artists. The new city inherited the role of mentoring the musical lives of northern India. But for Bombay, the present-day music of the subcontinent would have been poorer.

The unruly and unpredictable forms of collective violence that the Shiv Sena threatens against visiting artistes from Pakistan go against the very ethos of Mumbai and its cultural past. The city that shut its doors on Ghulam Ali had been a generous host to Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the doyen of the Patiala gharana. The distance we have travelled in time is frightening. Memories are non-existent in the times we live in. It takes only a moment to forget history and hop across hyperlinks: a mouse click can erase the memory of a time when Ghulam Ali was disallowed to impart his magic to us.

Our time cannot produce a Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. It does not seek musical elaborations that invoke the reverberations of the ocean. It would be impossible for Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to imagine hours of music compressed in a terabyte. But his genius could create an hour of music that contained the roar of the seas.

When India was partitioned, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was marooned in Pakistan. Like Manto’s lunatic from the village of Toba Tek Singh, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan too could not make sense of the idea that his village, Kasur, now belonged to a new country called Pakistan. It is not at all surprising that a mind that only meditated on music could not fathom concepts such as nations, borders and nationalism. Like other musicians from western Punjab, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan too was confined to Pakistan.

When Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was 45 years old at the time of Partition, ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali, born in Sialkot in Punjab, was only seven. Both Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who was then at the peak of his musical prowess, and Ghulam Ali, who was in the infancy of his music education, were unwitting victims of Partition. Ghulam Ali’s father, Ustad Daulat Ali Jafferi, was a singer, a sarangi player and an ardent fan of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He named his son Ghulam Ali after Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and wanted his son to learn under the ustad. However, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who was constantly travelling from stage to stage, gave taleem only to his brothers, who used to accompany the maestro.

Post-Partition, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan needed a visa to visit India. Tied up in bureaucratic redtape, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan might have felt that his time would be better spent in exploring a Malkauns sitting in Lahore than chasing the visa. What his followers in India were set to lose was not a mere singer, but an entire continent of Patiala gharana. However, they would not let that happen. That’s when Bombay intervened, an intervention that ought to be an essential part of the Shiv Sena’s learning of
the city’s history.

In the early 1950s, before the birth of Maharashtra, the western province went by the name Bombay and was governed by a future prime minister, Morarji Desai. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s fans compelled Desai
to seek then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s intervention. Nehru offered to restore Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s Indian citizenship and invited him to take up residence in India. The Bombay government readied a bungalow in Malabar Hill as the ustad’s permanent residence.

Decades later, the same city has closed its doors on Ghulam Ali.

When we rewind further in history, we arrive in Benares, the city now represented by the prime minister in the Lok Sabha. In the ancient, funereal loneliness of the ghats on the Ganga, we hear a young Bade Ghulam Ali Khan singing. The budding musician, who stayed in the congested gullies of the city, is at the ghats to do his midnight riyaz in peace.

The writer works as content head of Radio Mango, Dubai.

(This article first appeared in the print edition of this newspaper under the headline ‘Mumbai then and now’)