India’s path to global power?




by Aijaz Zaka Syed


Just when you think the likes of the Shiv Sena Party couldn’t get any more disingenuous and meaner, they get worse. After all, for nearly five decades Sena has done nothing but spew sweetness and light and you would think it had squeezed the last drops of political mileage out of spreading all round cheer and goodness. This time around though, it seems Sena and its rabble- rousing chief, Bal Thackeray, have finally bit off more than they can chew.

All these years, Sena has fed and grown on divisive and subversive politics. From targeting poor south Indians, or the Madrasis as they are contemptuously called, to attacking Muslims as “traitors and Pakistani agents”, Shiv Sena has swelled and expanded its ranks the way all such outfits do, by preying and playing on people’s deepest insecurities and complexes. Of late, north Indian “bhayyas”, or people from the Hindi heartland of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have been the target of Sena’s campaign. From bashing up the north Indian youths appearing for job interviews and tests in Mumbai to attacking poor cabbies from small towns and villages working the city’s crowded streets, Shiv Sena has not just terrorised the city but has held the whole of India hostage to its brute power.

[Left: A symbol of Hindu militancy in India, Bal Thackeray, the head of Shiv Sena]

A great deal has been said about Mumbai’s infamous underworld and its stranglehold over the nation’s financial and cultural capital. But indeed it is Shiv Sena — and now its other franchise headed by Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj Thackeray — that rules Mumbai’s streets. For years, from Bollywood’s most popular Khans to the powerful industrialists and billionaires, just about everybody who’s somebody has been cowering in their pants and paying obeisance to the deity at Matoshri from time to time. No one could survive in Mumbai by getting on the wrong side of the Sena. Ramgopal Verma captured it rather well in his dark and brooding blockbuster Sarkar, even though one couldn’t quite accept the redoubtable Amitabh Bachchan in Thackeray’s avatar. Big B succeeds in conveying the quiet menace of his character in his measure style, even glamourising the legend of Thackeray in the process.

Lately, there have been increasing signs that Mumbai, one of the greatest and most vibrant cities, wants to move on. It is showing signs of revolt against the kind of venomous politics the Sena and its allies have been playing all these years. This week, Mumbai and India sent a loud and clear message to the Thackerays, and everyone else who cared to pay attention, that they aren’t prepared to take any more baloney in the name of Marathi people and the so-called son of the soil. Shiv Sena’s tyranny is being challenged by Mumbai wallahs and ordinary Indians on two fronts: its campaign against so- called outsiders and its endless bashing of Muslims and Pakistan.

[Right: The defiant Khan (SRK) in a poster of his recently released film ‘My name is KHAN”]

It was this changing mood that may have emboldened and encouraged Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to defy the Sena toughies. It was curiously uplifting to see Shah Rukh stiffen his spine and stand up to the terror tactics of the Thackerays. By refusing to eat his words criticising the exclusion of Pakistani cricketers in Indian Premier League matches, Shah Rukh may have made up for the moral spinelessness of the world’s biggest film industry all these years. The actor refused to give in and go down on his knees, as many before him repeatedly have, even when the Sena threatened to prevent the screening of his much-awaited movie, My Name is Khan. (As I write this, there are reports of Sena vandalising cinemas across the state)

For his part, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the nation’s most celebrated political dynasty and probably a future leader of the world’s largest democracy, showed rare political and moral courage that has been lacking in the governing Congress for some time. Rahul not only took on the Sena for its campaign against north Indians by declaring that every inch of India belongs to all Indians, but he also travelled to Mumbai to take the local train to Dadar, right into the heart of Sena territory. Like a simple, ordinary guy confronting a neighbourhood bully in a Bollywood production, Rahul defied and vanquished the Sena in a manner not seen in years.

[Left: Though not much experienced in politics Rahul Gandhi can definitely be an instrument of change for the future of India. Many Indians believe he is the most preferred candidate for the role of India’s future prime minister]

Am I being sentimental here? Maybe. Perhaps, it was a routine populist gesture — the kind that comes naturally to our politicians. But there was something quintessentially Gandhian about Rahul taking that trip in the face of threats and dire warnings and peacefully but resolutely confronting the folk who only speak and understand the language of violence and force.

This is the way to go. If India is to attain the heights of greatness that it aspires to and deserves to achieve, it can do so only by following in the footsteps of Gandhi and other visionaries of modern India. If India is respected and admired around the world, it’s because of that vision, not because of the hate-fuelled politics practised by outfits like Shiv Sena, a party that has been repeatedly snubbed by the voters.

India wants to move on. In fact, it has already moved on from the poisoned temple-mosque politics of the 1980s and 1990s. It is evident in the decline of parties like Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and others. This may be why even the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have criticised Thackeray, their ally and fellow traveller for years. This may be bad news for the Hindutva alliance, but it augurs well for India and its rich, diverse and pluralist society.

With the progressive decline of the United States, China and India are being seen around the world as the next superpowers. While China’s pace of growth is far more consistent, I believe it is India that is more qualified and deserves to be the next world leader. With its stable democratic institutions, genuinely independent judiciary and media, and a healthy civil society, India is best prepared to take over the mantle of global leadership from America.

The US has come this far and enjoys the eminence of global leadership not because of its military or economic might but because of its democratic institutions and the welcoming nature of its multicultural society. If America is where it finds itself today it is because it has constantly welcomed dreamers and go- getters and enterprising, talented and hard working people from around the world. It’s a nation of immigrants and its doors have always remained open for everyone who wants a slice of the American pie. It matters not where you come from or who you are. What matters is what you can bring to the table and how you can contribute.

This is the secret of American dream. If India is to be a world leader like America it can do so only by preserving and promoting its all- welcoming, all-embracing culture and attitude: an India where everyone gets his or her due with dignity. When Indians find themselves unwelcome in their own country, in cities like Mumbai, how can this amazing country ever hope to touch the heights of greatness that it seeks to touch?

The future belongs to the India of Rahul Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar, not to the banana republic that parties like Sena want to make out of India.

The writer is opinion editor of Khaleej Times .

You might also like other posts from Aijaz Zaka Syed! 

1. What a billion Muslims Think 2. Lessons for Iran, Mideast in North Korea’s Nukes 3. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s Crime? 4. Attacking Pakistan? Don’t Do It. 5. Islamistische Gewalt (Der Spiegel Article)
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14 replies to “India’s path to global power?

  1. If Indian Muslim and Christian will realize their potential and will try to propagte their Indian identity by adhearing with the Indian Philosophy ,It is only then the dream of India as a world power can be realized . At present they are looking towards the foreign contries for their Identity and they are getting success through them in creating barrier in the way of our country to be a world leader .

    1. @A.K. Tewari,

      There is a difference between identity and the philosophy. The philosophy doesn’t have any idnetity nor has any geographical conaideration, no national / subnational tag etc. But identity does have a national or subnational tone.

      The Indian Muslims and Christians are as much sons of the soil of India as the majority community i.e. the Hindus. Unfortunately Bal Thackeray and his followers are urging on the Non Hindus of India to identify themselves per force as Hindu Indians which is simply not possible. Had non Hindu communities no Indian identity, India could never have produced stalwarts like Malana Abdul Kalam Azad, Rafiuddin Qudwai, Dr. Ambedkar, and last but not the least the celebrities of modern India, e.g. former Indian president Abul Kalam, music composer, A. R. Rehman, painter Maqbool Fida Hussain, notwithstanding the Khans of Mumbai’s movie industry.

      The paradox of Bal Thackeray and other Hindutva specialists is that they club everything which is non Hindu in India with Pakistan and that’s their real problem. Such a narrow and closed approch by the Thackerays in India comes into the way of India becoming a global power and that is the point Aijaz Zaka Syed has very rightly pointed out in his article.
      Muhammad Wasi of Kundian

  2. @Wasi……Try to realise that a country like India is not being run by individuals, its runs on its own .State has not invested on them ,Sena is totaly based on peoples fund ,when this support will be no more the Sena will disappear but how such element will be treated in your country , is perhaps a very defficult task.

  3. @A.K. Tewari,

    Bal Thackerays whether in India or in Pakistan need not be encouraged either by the state or by the people.

    Muhammad Wasi of Kundian

  4. @wasi ,.but there is enough evidence that Pakistan has invested in state sponcerd terrorism both against India and Afghanistan and other parts of the world .No one can deny this fact .You can level the same charge against India to counter me but no one will believe it in the world becouse we have a secular democratic set up .

  5. @A.K.Tewari,
    Evidence that u cite always emanates from India and the Neocons sitting in Whitehouse. Neither is the Whitehouse nor India the whole world. [U presume so, its another matter, and u can go on presuming so, but the world knows the truth], and mind it, it’s the world not ‘your world’ which thinks Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism whereas India itself indulges in state terrorism through its military whereby it doesn’t spare even innocent Kashmiri kids playing cricket. Can see the YouTube video by StSheetrock’s blog, which appeared sometime back on this very site.
    MOREOVER India’s own hands thru its notorious spy agency RAW in fomenting terrorism thru TTP in Pakistan are not clean either.

  6. @wasi , Your answer is exactly the same as I was expecting from you . we are facing the problum of terrorism for the last sixty years and handling the culprits with the power of arm and amunition as well as with the power of diplomacy . The result is before you . Compare the achievements of India and Pakistan in any field .If the mentality of intelectuals in Pakistan continued to remain the same , a day will come soon that Pakistan will get collapsed on its own . Though I personaly do not want this situation to emerge in Pakistan but the indications are suggesting that the war in Afghanistan will not remain confined there alone .

  7. common this guy bal thakeray he is being lionised by
    some sections of the press . his basic grouse is that lot of people go to bombay repeate bombay to earn their living , dispacing marathas . thats all beyond that he is a no body . he is like a stray dog that barks and barks and barks . obviously he is going to get some attention . lets leave it at that . shall we .and grow up

  8. Hello, i feel that i saw you visited my website thus i got here
    to return the choose?.I am attempting to in finding things to improve my site!I suppose
    its good enough to make use of a few of your concepts!!

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