Imagine, just for a moment, what would have happened if Abdullah Bukhari, the Delhi Imam, had been in Bal Thackeray's shoes and said what the Shiv Sena supremo said when there were some coy voices about his arrest? "The entire Hindustan would go up in flames if I am arrested," Thackeray had thundered in his incomparable style.
I wonder how the NDA government and Thackeray himself would have reacted if there was an arrest order against Bukhari with similar charges and the politically-inclined pastor were to use the language Thackeray has been using all his life? The Sena chief would have then called for reading the riot act to Bukhari and immediate action against him. And perchance the Imam was let off the hook like Thackeray has been, the Sena boss would have questioned the very 'manliness' of our rulers. "Hum ne sabki tarha chudiyan nahi pahni hain. I am proud of my Sainiks," he had said some time ago when his stormtroopers vandalised the cricket pitches reacting against Pakistani team's tour. Or he would have repeated his recent comment on Vajpayee and his men: "This country is run by a bunch of idiots!"
I know this is plain communal analogy. But just look at the way this guy has been defying the might of Indian state all these years and getting away with it! He has been hideously appeased or at most treated with kid gloves by successive governments. Despite the fact that one-time cartoonist never made a secret of preying on hundreds of helpless men and women during decades of sectarian violence -- from bloody riots of Bhiwandi and Jalgaon to the more recent Bombay bloodbath. He ran amok in the cultural capital of the nation which Bombay once was and disfigured its tolerant and cosmopolitan face.
It's a tragic irony of our democratic times that the SS (the name so appropriately reminds you of the force created by a certain German dictator!) eventually captured the power riding on the surge of communal frenzy that swept Bombay and transformed it into Mumbai. And when Justice Srikrishna submitted his report in 1996 indicting Thackeray and his thugs for the post-Babri anti-Muslim pogroms, no one in his right senses expected the SS government to act against its own self. Little surprise, the report was consigned to the dustbin of amnesia -- where so many other such reports have been gathering dust -- by the Sena government. It has remained there ever since!
If the Congress-NCP government suddenly woke up to the report, it's not because chief minister Deshmukh and home minister Bhujbal were exceedingly overwrought by their constitutional duty. They were sadly motivated by their own political compulsions. The distinct possibility of Sena upsetting the Congress-NCP apple cart with the help of some NCP legislators is said to have resurrected the Srikrishna report.
The supreme court's strong censure of the BJP government for its 'ambivalent stand' on the Srikrishna report and its direction to the state government to act on its findings come as a whiff of fresh air. "When the report had given certain findings and held certain persons prima facie responsible for the riots, the logical corollary should be to prosecute them," noted the apex court. The observation reinforces the belief in the rule of law and secular foundations of the country.
However, a Mumbai magistrate's letting off Thackeray citing the dubious 'time' factor violates the spirit of justice. The magistrate as well as the entire nation know full well that Thackeray couldn't be brought to book all these years for the simple reason: his own minions had been ruling during this period! In fact, the SS-BJP combine had withdrawn all cases against their master. This particular case somehow escaped their attention.
The Sena chief's getting away with murder in this fashion will send out dangerous signals to all those who have been wronged by the highhanded in high places. If the sanctity of law has to be maintained, it's important that the confidence of all those who had been savaged and deprived of their dear ones is restored in the justice of the land. That will be possible only when the perpetrators are not only brought to trial but ultimately given retribution.
For long, Thackeray has been hunting the weak and defenceless. He calls himself a tiger and apparently believes this country is a jungle and he is the lord of this jungle! He has been holding a nation of billion people to ransom by his cheap theatrics. Isn't it time he is reminded ours is a civilised society and the jungle writ of might is right does not run here? Isn't it time to cage him?
Aijaz Syed is executive editor of Meantime newsmagazine published in Bangalore, India.