Bal Thackeray has passed away, and the city of Mumbai has taken to the streets to mourn a man who segregated Maratha ‘pride’ from that of being Indian and sought, thereby, to put Maharashtra on a high pedestal, to stand apart and make a point. Having once been the commercial and cultural capital of India, this bustling, overcrowded, randomly expanding city has lost its glory now, and seems unable to deal with its own body and soul, as it contorts and convulses to stay alive and productive.
To an outsider, Mumbai is a concrete, high-rise slum, no longer the dream city of the 1940s and 1950s that attracted not only the best and the brightest but also those with a dream of altering the course of their future. Now the city sets no fresh standards and generates no substantive, cutting edge ideas. For many, it epitomizes the nexus between the political and the business classes, and that between the administrative machinery and the underworld of strong-arm men and tactics. The city has become cold, forbidding and greedy.
Watching the deluge of ordinary people wanting a farewell glimpse of their Maratha leader as his cortege moved to its final destination at Shivaji Park, it seemed that the Shiv Sena and its allies will sweep the polls next time round in Mumbai and its environs. Reports say that such a crowd was last witnessed when Lokmanya Tilak died.
The same day brought us the bizarre news that Ponty Chadha, a liquor baron and real estate honcho with enormous clout, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, and his brother shot each other over property disputes and, possibly, the division of ‘spoils’. Both are dead. A typical mafia story that astounds and bewilders ordinary people, bringing home the harsh and disturbing truth that India is on the edge of anarchy.
Take an oath
The death of Thackeray replaced the non-stop speculations on the death of the Chadha brothers. The Indian electronic media mark time as they struggle to get a story to come across as substantive and ‘right’. Social media tools give us more varied views, shared with candour and from the gut, that other media tend to couch in inanities, explanations, personal judgements, posturing and platitudes.
Twitter and suchlike allow us the opportunity to read between the lines, to think and form our own judgment and take positions as ordinary citizens. These new and energetic communication tools have blown the cover on censorship of thought and expression. They help people to engage with economic and socio-political issues that affect the life of the aam admi.
Only the insecure and intellectually infirm want to strangle the freedom that these tools of communication offer. If the political and administrative classes are stunted because of decades of mal-governance and faulty, corrupt practices, here is the moment to rectify that abhorrent past and come clean. Take an oath, dear leaders and babus, of transparency, and be not scared of the Right to Information Act, of what you write in the earmarked column space as your view, of harassment and of transfers. Just get on with the job at hand and deliver the goods and services on time. Why this desperate need to harass the innocent, to extract money and favours, to keep people waiting for the simplest of clearances, and to kneel at the feet of the political bosses?
It is as though all the flowers must die before the new buds emerge. India is in great pain and misery, being pushed and shoved and taken for granted. When Parliament begins its session, India will be insulted yet again and elected representatives will hold the country to ransom as they continue to draw their salaries and privileges. What a shame.