Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Silver Lining - Rising Above It All

A lot of Anita's folks including my parents-in-law live in Mumbai and Pune, so I pay special attention to developments there.

Two recent adverse events were the Shiv Sena agitation against popular Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan ("SRK") in Mumbai, and the German Bakery blast in Pune. These are of course vastly different in terms of severity and criminality. But the reaction they evoked (or lack of it) speaks well for Indians, who will hopefully keep this up.

SRK was right in criticizing the snub of Pakistani cricketers by the Indian Premier League, an antithesis of "ping pong diplomacy" where sports help improve country relations. In response the Shiv Sena which is seldom (if ever) up to any good tried to damage SRK by disrupting the screening of his latest film "My Name is Khan." They announced a "boycott", intimidated movie halls,tore off posters and threatened violence.

But the movie has done very well in Mumbai where it played to packed houses, and in the rest of the country. This notwithstanding its serious theme and lack of box office "masala" that typically lures the masses. Deliberate or not, it also carries a message, sensitizing viewers to some Muslim sentiments which should strengthen communal amity. While the major source of this movie's revenues is domestic, it has broken records in the Middle East and other Islamic markets, as well as in the rest of the world.

In contrast to the Shiv Sena's antics against SRK that are merely a nuisance, the German Bakery blast in Pune was an act of malicious terrorism claiming 17 innocent lives and injuring over 50 others. A little over a year ago I visited this place every other day for almost a month while Anita's parents were in Inlaks Hospital a few hundred yards away.

The victims couldn't have been further removed from any jihadist angst. The patrons of this modest eatery were typically carefree young people or foreigners of limited means seeking peace and solace in the nearby Osho Ashram. Like in the Mumbai Nov. 26, '08 carnage, what would have really played into the terrorists' hands would have been a backlash against India's Muslim community. The main purpose of these acts seems to be to disrupt the India-Pakistan renewed talks as well as to create a communal divide in India.

That has not happened, and the credit for that goes to Hindus and Muslims of India alike. This has also elicited praise in the Western media (like from Tom Friedman after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.) There's no guarantee for the future but every successive instance of collective restraint and a mature response to provocations augurs well for this country's greatness.

Of course it has not always been like this. After the 2002 Godhra violence and communal riots in Gujarat (with alleged state government lapses) the good times started in the time of Prime Minister Vajpayee. Though he headed a nationalistic and supposedly pro-Hindu government, he helped select the widely respected Muslim scientist Abdul Kalam as President of India.

Despite the inevitable hiccups and dissent, further developments have strengthened the climate of inclusiveness and tolerance. In his now famous November 2009 speech, Shashi Tharoor describes the 2004 appointment of Dr. Manmohan Singh to prime minister. Here was a Sikh chosen to lead a predominantly Hindu India, sworn in by a Muslim President, and all this made possible by an Italian woman Sonia Gandhi who headed the largest Indian political party. What could be more eloquent testimony than this?


Anonymous said...

The 3 biggest problems in the world in ascending order:

1. Understanding the data coming out of the particle accelerator in Swiss/France.

2. Balancing Greece's budget

3. Creating harmony in India/Pak

These people are always on the verge of civil war. They are Tamil first, Indian second; Assamese first, Indian second; Pastun first, Pakistani second.

Shiv sena is making a mountain out of a molehill, and half the population agrees with them. Why did AP split up? Why is Assam, Bihar, Bengal all wanting to split up? Senseless.

Sandip Madan said...

No other country comes close to India in terms of being a secular democracy despite its size and ethnic / communal diversity. So yes, there are inevitably problems but the overall Indian ethos is better than a while ago.

Petty local politics are driving most of the demands for carving out new states. While this may be unfortunate, in most cases there is no talk of leaving the Indian Union.