There seems to be three ways of dealing with, or not dealing with, Mr Bal Thackeray — punitive action, vigilant indifference, and lily-livered equivocation. The Maharashtra government is dithering with the first, the national commission for minorities has tentatively opted for the second, and the Centre is keeping up the third. Meanwhile, an offensive and dangerous politician is yet again getting away with being offensive and dangerous. The Shiv Sena chief has used his Dussehra speech in Mumbai to publicly float the idea of a Hindu suicide squad in order to flush out the wrong kind of militancy from the country. This is perfectly logical and patriotic self-protection, as the state wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party agrees. Besides, he is entitled to call India a Hindu nation after Partition, and never once has he used the word, “minority”, in his speech. But the state government has registered a case against him under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, for promoting communal hatred. He could be in prison for up to three years if convicted. The secular citizen might rightly wonder why this law was not invoked when Mr Ashok Singhal declared the Gujarat genocide a successful experiment, promising more in the future. This same citizen might also wonder about the legal implications of Mr Narendra Modi’s oratory over the last few months.
However, the aftermath of this action against Mr Thackeray has revealed much about how this country is run. Having registered the case, the Maharashtra government and police seem to be in a quandary about what to do next. Proceeding with the investigation and conviction might have terrible consequences for the state, as the Shiv Sena has quite brazenly warned. Its threat has worked. The Centre is refusing to take the matter on, as law and order are technically the state government’s responsibility. The state government and the police are nervously undecided as to who must do what. Everybody seems to be genuinely scared — while another kind of terrorism, entirely home-grown, holds its head high in ugly triumph.