Punish the rowdies


India’s parliamentary democracy has survived many shocks but the kind of physical and political threat to it as seen in the Maharashtra Assembly when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena members assaulted Samajwadi Party legislator Abu Azmi for taking his oath of office in Hindi would take it dangerously near the tipping point. MNS chief Raj Thackeray had issued a warning in public that anybody who took the oath in a language other than Marathi would face the music. This was of a piece with the virulent chauvinism that the MNS and its parent party, the Shiv Sena, had professed and practised in the state. The MNS has been driven by its compulsion to beat the Shiv Sena in the creed of hatred that has been injected into the state’s politics for long.

It had threatened and unleashed violence on non-Marathis on the streets and now the hooligan cult has been taken to the floor of the Assembly. The four MNS members who assaulted Abu Kazmi have been suspended for four years but they should be disqualified so that the message goes loud and clear that their kind have no place in a democracy. Raj Thackeray should also be punished for his instigation of narrow parochialism and violence. The mixture of violence and aggressive intolerance in the state is the recipe for fascism and poisons the constitutional system. The MNS is still unapologetic about its championship of militant chauvinism. The full might of the constitutional machinery should be invoked to drive home the message that the rights of people guaranteed by the Constitution are safe.

The challenge should be met politically also. The MNS, which divided the Shiv Sena’s support base in the state, has benefited from the soft treatment it has got from the Congress-NCP combine. But the MNS is sure to turn into a Frankenstein worse than the Shiv Sena if it is not stopped in its tracks. The Congress and the NCP, which wrangled over the number of ministerial berths and portfolios and inordinately delayed government formation, should consider the fight against the attitudes and policies represented by the MNS as its main and immediate task. The state, and especially Mumbai, are anchored in the country’s most cosmopolitan traditions and they should be protected for preservation of the idea that the country stands for.

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