Arousing anti-Pakistan sentiments is a hobbyhorse of the Shiv Sena. That is why Khan was called "a traitor" for saying that he supported good relations with the people of Pakistan. Image Credit: Adriene Harebottle/Gulf News

The developing countries have in parochialism a menace that disrupts normal life. A small number of people take the law into their hands and whip up a frenzy by appealing to divisive and communal sentiments. They not only mar the rhythm of development but also weaken the nation's cohesion.

The Shiv Sena in Mumbai is one such organisation which takes pride in sowing the seeds of separation. Its followers are like the Taliban — less violent, but equally fanatical. They have adopted Marathi, one of India's 14 main languages, to push their agenda for a distinct identity. They openly preach Hindutva.

Therefore, it was not surprising that the Shiv Sena picked on a Muslim, asking Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan to apologise for his comments about the exclusion of Pakistan cricket players from the Indian Premier League.

Khan stood his ground. and a TV survey showed that 94 per cent of people backed him. Of course, the depressing part was the silence of most actors who were expected to speak out in support of Khan. I was not surprised by the silence of Amitabh Bachchan. He travelled all the way to Ahmedabad to show his movie to Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Gujarat carnage fame.

It is a sad commentary on the secular credentials of the Congress party, which controls both the Maharashtra and the central governments, that it was slow to take action against the Shiv Sena. What woke up the Maharashtra administration was the visit by Rahul Gandhi to Mumbai. The country applauded his observation that every part of India belonged to every Indian. He confronted the Shiv Sena on its own territory, much to the humiliation of its chief Bal Thackery. It is having its revenge on hapless theatres and viewers of Khan's movie.

Targeted

Arousing anti-Pakistan sentiments is a hobby-horse of the Shiv Sena. That is why Khan was called "a traitor" for saying that he supported good relations with the people of Pakistan.

The anti-Pakistan feeling in India or the anti-India feeling in Pakistan is an old phenomenon which, unfortunately, has persisted. Any demagogue can exploit it. Bal Thackerey in India and Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed, who organised last week a meeting in Islamabad to "liberate India," are stoking fires of hatred. They will not stop because they earn dividends from the hostility they peddle.

But I am more concerned over the attitude of the younger generations on both sides. I happened to watch on TV a chat between youngsters from the two countries. They were talking about a cricket match between India and South Africa, but the manner in which they were using filthy language to describe leading cricketers was shocking.

It is 62 years since partition. Both the Congress, representing the majority of Hindus, and the Muslim League, representing the majority of Muslims, agreed to a proposal to divide the Indian Subcontinent on the basis of religion. But, at the same time, the founders of the two countries, Mahatma Gandhi and Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, told their people not to mix religion with politics. Gandhi said he would live in Karachi and the Qaid-e- Azam retained his Mumbai house for occasional visits. Both said that the two countries would be the best of friends. So why are youngsters on both sides denouncing by their actions those who won them freedom?

After killing one million people in four wars, both sides should have realised that hostilities cannot be an answer to their differences. The option of war was extinguished once the two counties went nuclear. There is no alternative to peace. Youngsters should appreciate this fact all the more because the challenge before them is to build their countries, not destroy them.

Reject disharmony

Hindus and Muslims have lived together for 800 years. Together they have moulded a life of accommodation and tolerance. They have developed a composite culture that retains the separate identities of Hinduism and Islam. It was the British rulers who created disharmony and distance; we should have rejected this long ago.

The other question the Shiv Sena has posed regards linguistic identity. India reorganised its states on linguistic lines 50 years ago. Even at that time, the danger of linguistic chauvinism was underlined by the Fazl Ali Commission on Reorganisation of States. Movements in other parts of India in the name of language have risen and fallen. The Shiv Sena phenomenon, a decade old, has not died because it has found fertile ground in Maharashtra.

The Mumbai attacks helped the Shiv Sena to raise the pitch of anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The larger question is how to fight against anti-Muslim feeling and anti-Pakistan sentiment, two sides of the same coin. Friendly relations with Pakistan are the only answer. Unfortunately, the Bharatiya Janata Party has opposed even talks at the foreign secretary level.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Quraishi is not helping matters by playing to the gallery. His body language and words don't help the situation. The priority should be to ensure the talks are successful, and not to dwell on who bowed before whom. This will take patience and a willingness to accommodate each other's point of view.

 

- Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.