The irony is so stark that it exposes the sham of it all. The criminals who attacked a corruption-fighting lawyer in his chambers called themselves the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena. Those who gathered to see the attackers in a court were assaulted by thugs who called themselves the Sri Ram Sene. Bhagat Singh was a patriot whose writings showed great discretion and judgment and whose memory is honoured by all sections of people. Sri Ram is the most revered of all divinities in the Indian pantheon, a personification of all the virtues of man. That these hallowed names should be used by vile men of intolerance and violence is an affront. The heroes whose fame is falsely evoked will lose none of their glory. Those who perpetrate fraud in their names will go down as dregs of society.
The danger they pose has another, more disturbing, implication. Public life in India seems to have entered a new phase that must worry us all. Fringe groups and fanatics of all kind feel free to do what they like – beat up civil society campaigners today, kill whistleblowers tomorrow. The Government responds with such weak and routine measures that the crimes get bolder as time passes. This could well lead to the collapse of the very democratic system that sustains us.
A cursory look at what has been happening in recent years is sufficient to show how governmental inaction has fanned the flames of bigotry. When impermissible things happened in Mumbai, the so-called secular democrats of the Congress and the NCP were too scared – and too selfish – to take action. The conduct of leaders like Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sharad Pawar was shameless when taxi and autorickshaw drivers were dragged out and beaten up by Raj Thackeray's thugs.
Naturally thugs got bolder. The destruction of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune is one of the unforgivable crimes of our times. A precious storehouse of rare works and manuscripts, it was a jewel on Maharashtra's crown. Even that was not understood by the illiterate zealots who attacked it in the name of Shivaji.
Shivaji is another venerated name that is used as an excuse by criminally inclined people to assault their enemies. A proposal by the Maharashtra Government to build a big statue of the Maratha hero out in the Arabian sea off Mumbai was a legitimate topic for different people to express different opinions. But just because a critical opinion was published by Kumar Ketkar, one of the most distinguished journalists in Marathi and therefore a proud son of Maharashtra, his house and offices were attacked. Again, the authorities took virtually no action.
When a Rohinton Mistry novel was taken off Bombay University's syllabus, protest came from the principal of a college, but the Shiv Sena crown prince who forced the cowardly act by the University simply gloated. Now the Delhi University has censored out a scholarly work on the Ramayana by the internationally renowned scholar A.K. Ramanujan. The hundred Ramayanas he wrote about will continue to enlighten knowledge seekers; the closed minds of fanatics will remain closed in their ignorance.
Can the Manmohan Singh Government afford to quibble and dither in the face of such assaults on the values of democracy the vast majority of Indians cherish? This Government's refusal to take action when it is needed has riled the Supreme Court itself. It is also the prime factor behind the scams that have made even our economy suffer. Such is the warped thinking in government circles that even Salman Khurshid, usually a sensible man, made the dumb remark that putting businessmen in jail discourages investment in the country. No sir, it is gargantuan corruption by the politician-businessman nexus that discourages investors. The Government has become so dormant and non-functioning that the country is slipping into a state of governmentlessness. Now that this is leading to street violence and open bigotry, can government inaction continue? The time of reckoning is now.