Narayan Rane’s arrest was uncalled for

Narayan Rane’s arrest was uncalled for

Speech in bad taste, but not a criminal offence

Narayan Rane. Credit: PTI file photo

If Union minister Narayan Rane’s remarks about Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray were crude and unbecoming of his position, the Shiv Sena leadership’s response to them was vindictive and disproportionate. The sentiments and the motivation behind both the words and the action go a long way back – to the time when Rane fell out with the Sena leadership as he thought Uddhav was robbing him of his rightful place in the party. So, personal grudges and political rivalries are mixed up in the drama of the arrest, the filing of cases and the staging of street protests in Mumbai and elsewhere, and in the heightened rhetoric over all these. Rane is the BJP’s hitman against the Sena, and he performed his role as provocateur to near perfection. The Sena had kept its wild instincts in check for long, but decided that Rane was the right person to be reminded of them.

The Sena should have left Rane’s bluster that he would have slapped Uddhav Thackeray for his question about the correct anniversary year of Independence as just that, an uncouth and discourteous bluster. He exaggerated for effect, and Sena did the same for impact. Though his words were in bad taste, they had to be stretched hard to be dubbed criminal. They should have been accommodated within the ambit of freedom of speech, with a generous view taken of that right. But there is no generosity in politics. Some years ago, before politics became so confrontationist, a shrug, a condemnation or a call for an apology would have been the normal response to the verbal offence of the kind Rane made. That would have shown how inappropriate the words were, especially coming from a minister, and how much at odds they were with the norms of public decency. Instead, the Sena unleashed the police and the mob on him and stooped low to settle old scores.

What was witnessed in the past few days may be the opening shots for the coming battle in the state which is going to see civic polls and importantly, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections. The confrontation has been building up, with over 40 cases being registered against Rane’s Jan Ashirwad Yatra in Mumbai and other areas on the charge of flouting Covid-19 protocols. One party was raring to provoke, the other was waiting for the provocation. The BJP has tried to take the political and moral high ground as a victim of highhanded police action, but it has also practised the same politics elsewhere. In a politics of short fuses, parties’ sights are shorter, set on the next elections and blinkered by narrow concerns.

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