De and Maharashtra

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 8:49 AM
How okay is it to be on a talk show and be a fence-sitter? More precisely, how appropriate is it to be on Devil’s Advocate and not have a stand? This is exactly what happened when Shobha De made her debut on the show and failed to be chose what side she wanted to be on.

Now Karan Thapar is a brutal interviewer. Born in Srinagar exactly some 53 years ago (today happens to be his birthday), he graduated from Cambridge with a degree in economics. He later went on to take a doctorate in International Relations from Oxford and currently heads a firm called Infotainment Television. With these credentials, the least he deserves is a healthy discussion when he calls somebody to interview them on his show.

Shift base to Ms.Shobha De. Born in Mumbai in 1948, she managed to pick up a degree in philosophy from St. Xaviers College, Mumbai. Then to advance her career, she edited magazines like Stardust and Celebrity. Her stint with literature saw her write some socialite novels like Starry Nights and Sultry Days (which I dared to pick up and now advice everybody to stay a hundred feet away from). Never a fan of her writings, I was half expecting her to deliver a decent interview when called to comment on the goin-ons in Maharashtra.

Moving on to the crux of this post… the interview. First and foremost, it is unfair to pitch two people with such drastically unequal credentials in the same battleground. Next, it is even more unfair when the place of supremacy is occupied by the wrong person. That said, Ms.De’s views were quite interesting. Being a marathi, she agreed to the fact that Mumbai was indeed brimming with immigrants from everywhere at every corner. She said it was ‘rare’ to come across marathi-speaking population these days when it came to things like asking for directions, et al (I would personally refuse to endorse such a statement because owing to my frequent trips to the city this year, I know marathi is redundant there). Moving on, though she did say that she was against the means that Raj Thackeray was employing to rid the state of north-Indian migrants… she stressed on adding that she still understood the justification behind these means (does her being a psychology grad have anything to do with it?). Playing a rational human being, she knew that our constitution ensured the right to live and earn in any state one wanted to, but added that others were being unfair to the Maharashtra manoos by taking away their jobs. Just as Karan would fire a red-hot question in her direction, De would spoil his party by agreeing to whatever he was saying and also pitching in her own comments to supplement it. After failing to swing her in either direction even after inundating her with a volley of conflicting questions, he finally gave up and concluded the interview with a polite (and customary) “Pleasure to have you on the show” one-liner.

The interview was pertinent. Both, Karan and De, write in Sunday newspapers (Karan in Hindustan Times and De in the Sunday Times of India). Both their columns had talked about the Thackeray mayhem in their respective columns that day. What had set De apart in both quarters was her lack of substance. Rhetoric is not bad. But that holds good only as long as what you are saying is not simple common-sense. Columnists and novelists are supposed to have a viewpoint. Otherwise it’s no fun reading what they write and hearing what they have to say. De came across as one such person. The benefit I derived from all that book and column reading, it’s a fool’s guess, is zilch.

My view:
What happened in Maharashtra was sad. Not only is it unfair to try to throw out all the immigrants from India’s biggest metropolitan city, it is also reprehensible to commit murders in the name of regional loyalty. About the issue of taking away jobs, it must be emphasized that jobs be given on the basis of merit. Being from one section of the people or not is not a criteria. All the demands that the MNS makes are usually illogical. They are regressive and propagate the notion of a divided India. With so much conflict within ourselves, are we really on our way to becoming a secular nation? Powers of anti-national elements like Raj Thackeray and the MNS should be curbed. His arrest, after throwing an ultimatum to the Maharashtra government and calling Vilas Rao Deshmukh “spineless”, was foreseen. What was not foreseen was the terror and riots that gripped Mumbai city following his arrest. What was even more unexpected was the vandalism that Patna railway station witnessed after the demise of Pawan Kumar, a candidate that got killed by the MNS workers while writing the rail board exam. The bail to Raj that had to be doled out to save Maharashtra from all the violence was unfortunate. The incident elicited strong reactions from politicians across the country. Lalu Yadav called Raj a ‘mental case’. Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar joined forces with him to fight the Thackeray menace. Clearly when the philosophies and ideologies of one party (the MNS) start hurting the entire nation, it is best to subdue its powers and order a ban on it. The fear in the minds of north Indians residing in Mumbai renders the MNS no less than a terrorist organization. And then when the constitution gives its citizens the right to live wherever they want, who is Raj Thackeray to take this right away from them? Now is the time to be a proactive nation and give this some serious thought.

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