Ink-smeared face, a blot on tolerance

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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