The Power of One Could Inspire India, Pakistan

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Kulkarni, Kasuri book a date with history

One defining moment is all it takes to change the course of history. It has happened before. It happened again on Monday and will inspire more acts of firm defiance against carriers of hate. One man against the mob, with a friend from across the border: Sudheendra Kulkarni, his face splattered with ink. His visage unrecognisable after the ‘non-violent attack’ by goons of the Shiv Sena far right party in Mumbai, the former journalist and politician turned peacenik, clutched a book – his weapon of choice against rabble-rousers of the day.

He raised it firmly with former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri. It was a toast to tolerance – the ideals on which secular India was founded. Later in the evening, a beaming Kulkarni emerged, liberal halo in place to launch Kasuri’s book, Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove. The Shiv Sena had egg on its face.

Kulkarni didn’t have to wander far to draw inspiration for this face-off with his aggressors. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of free India, was one frail man who matched wits with the British empire and won. He used ahimsa, or passive resistance and roused the nation to keep its tryst with destiny. Nelson Mandela was one man against apartheid in South Africa, which led to freedom and reconciliation between black and whites. Winston Churchill led the war cry against Hitler’s Nazi Germany in the Battle of Britain. Who can forget Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King when they helped the blacks ‘overcome’ in the 1960s.

India may be rising under a nationalist BJP-led government, but many citizens in the country are realising that space for dissent and contrarian views are shrinking – the middle ground slipping away. Rationalists are being bumped off. Communism is a foul word that should not roll off your tongue, lest it be cut off. Conversions are taboo. Beef is holy even if cows, their ribs straining under the hide, walk the streets, unfed, uncared for and forsaken. You toe the party or Hindutva line. If you don’t you could come under attack from the fringe on all sides as the government of the day cringes.

Diplomatic ties between the India and Pakistan have at best been frosty since the Modi government took over last year. Foreign ministries of the two sides and heads of government have stopped talks. Silence can sometimes be ominous, a portent of bad times turning worse. Kulkarni, a former adviser and aide to senior BJP politician L. K. Advani, was attempting to find the middle ground with Pakistan, away from the booming guns on the border between the two countries. In fact, he held his ground with aplomb by not backing down to shrill extremist group who have made it a habit of disrupting events where Pakistani artistes and guests are invited.

The Shiv Sena often invokes the deaths of India soldiers in Kashmir as the reason for not having any truck with Pakistan.. Kasuri, the former Pakistan minister, has a right to his views, which he has elucidated in his book. That does not make him less than a friend to Kulkarni, who has every right to disagree with him. The Pakistani guest came with a book, not a gun, so why was the Sena jittery on their home turf? That’s because they have lost ground in the state to the ruling BJP and other parties. It’s a desperate move to seek more infamy.

Aditya Thackeray, son of Sena supremo Uddhav, in a letter to Rajdeep Sardesai, a leading TV anchor, offered no remorse for his party’s actions. “Of course non-violent incidents like ink shed on some, by a certain few parties would anger you to tag it as violence, but otherwise it would be democratic and history. Ink spilt may be more violent for you than its intent to protest against all the innocent blood on the streets of Mumbai, Jammu and Kashmir, every city that has face Pakistan sponsored terrorism.” He went on to call Kulkarni a Naxal (extreme Left) sympathizer, and said Kasuri had links to anti-India Kashmiri separatists

The Shiv Sena’s actions stem has its genesis in the 1970s under founder Bal Thackeray who fanned anti-South sentiment against the Tamils in Mumbai. After the Mumbai blasts in 1992, they began targeting Muslims and Pakistan. Sporting activity and cultural exchanges between the two countries were banned right under the noses of federal and state governments. Last week, the group forced the cancellation of a concert by Ghulam Ali, a Pakistani musician. It all started in 1999 when they dug up the Ferozshah Kotla stadium pitch in Delhi before a Pakistan-India cricket match.

It is clear from the Kulkarni episode that the show will go on between India and Pakistan on neutral, liberal – even higher ground. The Indian was brave, the Pakistani stoic. Strength of character was on display. No border or mobs can stop people from talking, exchanging views, sharing ideas, or speaking out. The agents of change have shown there’s more to the India-Pakistan story than the Shiv Sena’s wasted ink.

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