There’s a political party in Maharashtra (capital: Mumbai) that makes a little bit of sick come up in my throat every time I think about them. They are an extreme right-wing grouping called the Shiv Sena and the most positive thing I can think to say about them is that if they did not spend all of their time being utterly inept politicians and slack-jawed, lost-my-virginity-to-my-cousin racists, they would probably go around stamping on the skulls of babies or swapping the labels on medicine bottles just for fun.
One thing the Shiv Sena is good for is copy. They particularly like attacking hugely popular celebrities for saying terrible things like “Mumbai is for all of India”. Recently it was cricketing hero Sachin Tendulkar in the firing line. Now they’re seeking to lose a bit more popularity by attacking Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan.
Da Shiv don’t like such comments because they portray Mumbai as a big cosmopolitan city in which many of the nation’s most positive achievements and hopes for the future are focused. The Shiv would much rather see Mumbai become a backward cesspit in which any non-Marathis are shipped out or turned into slaves and the remaining band of frothing bigots can spend the rest of their days running around in circles rejoicing about the wonders of ethnic purity and its ability to transcend the need for any fraternity, development or sense.
SRK is in trouble for daring to suggest that Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket teams were perhaps a little stupid for refusing to sign any Pakistan players during a recent auction. The incident has spiralled into a diplomatic incident between the two countries, although it has since emerged that the whole thing was probably the fault of IPL commissioner Lalit Modi. Khan is refusing to back down which is laudable (even if his professed fears that the controversy will damage takings for his new film are a bit difficult to swallow), and the attention has dragged other political parties into the fray.
Interestingly, this includes the BJP – the 2nd largest party in the country – who have been a close ally of the Sena over the years and would certainly be labelled a bunch of dangerous fascist maniacs themselves if the Sena weren’t around to steal their thunder. There are promising signs that after last year’s big electoral defeat and a change of leadership, the BJP is realising that its brand of Hindu nationalism sounds a bit too primitive for an emerging superpower and is starting to re-think some of its allegiances.
Unfortunately, the Sena are masters at striking fear and uncertainty into the minds of voters and they are a potent electoral force at state level. Their influence was demonstrated recently when the local Congress party tried to out-stupid the Sena and demand that all cabbies in Mumbai speak Marathi and have been resident there for at least 15 years. It was immediately realised that this meant there would only be about six cabs left in the city and the idea was brushed under the carpet.
Taking on as vocal and popular a public figure as SRK seems to have finally galvanised opposition to the Shiv Sena. Even their formidable publicity skills can’t take on the might of the Bollywood press machine and not get severly wounded. Let’s hope so.