## Monday, November 08, 2010

### India's liberal foundation

I just read The off-key notes of a Sena scion by Rahul Pandita in Open magazine. The quick summary: Aditya Thackeray is the son of Uddhav Thackeray and the grand-son of Bal Thackeray, both of whom are the most-feared politicians of Bombay. He is now being initiated into politics, and has led the charge by threatening violence against those who would read Rohington Mistry. But his resume up to here features all sorts of nice nineteenth century liberal values such as writing poetry, mostly in English, rap music, Urdu, wearing jeans, and a bit of French. The article correctly draws attention to the hypocrisy of those involved.

But in it, I see another dimension. An upbringing in the Thackeray family is as strong an indoctrination into the sectarian perspective as you could ask for. I find it quite striking that between a certain strong ideology being sold at home, and the broader liberal worldview that pervades India, young Aditya evolved into the culture of an open and inclusive India.

The idea of India is about a great coalition of people who differ in ethnicity, language, religion, skin colour, education, income etc., who have figured out how to live together with a mixture of tolerance and individualism, without getting trapped in hatred or envy. This liberal India was strong enough to be appealing to Aditya Thackeray, and this story tells us that we're in good shape.

1. I don't think that the upbringing in the Thackeray family guarantees indoctrination into the sectarian perspective. I doubt the Thackeray family really believes in all that it spews out. Aditya Thackeray went to Bombay Scottish, and then to St. Xaviers. The children have studied in private English medium schools, which explains their inability to speak fluent Marathi. The Thackeray daughter-in-law finances Bollywood films which don't exactly stand for Marathi culture and so on.

The Thackeray's have found a nice issue (which they don't seem to particularly practice at home) to get mindshare and media-share. The pity is that none of the people realize this hypocrisy. The greater pity is that a lot of people, mostly Maharashtrians I presume, buy into this nonsense. Of course, there are many other reasons why the Shiv-Sena wins elections. Their claim to be the guardians of Maharashtrian culture not the only one.

2. Addendum: They are not threatening violence against anyone who will read the book by Rohinton Mistry. They don't want the book to be part of the reading list of the B.A. in English Literature syllabus.

Both the Sena-tribe and Ashok Chavan came on TV saying that the book uses objectionable language and therefore it cannot be part of the syllabus (In any case the book was optional - there are several books that can be read as part of the course and this was one of them). They very righteously claimed that they believe in freedom of expression so they are not banning the book. Read it at home, but not as part of the syllabus.

Barkha Dutt asked Ashok Chavan that Bollywood movies have worse language than used in the book. And Ashok Chavan says, 'but the movies are not part of the syllabus in colleges, you see'. NONE of the people on that show had even read the book. Chavan says he has only read a few lines and finds them objectionable.

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