By Shashi Shekhar
Have we, as a society, lost all sense of right and wrong? This thought has been troubling me for the last three months.
We are going through a variety of crises. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has encroached into Indian territory. Indian soldiers fought back and 20 were killed. A virus that originated in China has devastated the world, and India is among the top two nations when it comes to the number of infections, and the number is only rising. Not since the Spanish Flu have we seen such a destructive epidemic.
This galloping disaster has had a direct impact on the economy. India was already in an economic tail-spin, but Covid-19 has pushed it down further and faster. The unemployment rate has reached catastrophic levels. In such a situation, one would have thought that there would be serious introspection and debate on how to pull the country and its people out of the quagmire. But this does not seem to be the case.
Instead, there is an unhealthy preoccupation with the death of a young, promising actor Sushant Singh Rajput and whether or not his girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty had any role in his suicide. She has now been arrested on charges of drug peddling. The Maharashtra Police was already investigating the case when the Bihar Police sent in its team. The matter has now become one between Bihar and Maharashtra. Politics has entered the picture and the three top investigative agencies have been playing an opaque role in the case.
Into this toxic mix comes actress Kangana Ranaut with her comparison of Maharashtra with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). This has sent the Shiv Sena, which considers itself the champion of Maharashtra and the Marathi manoos, into a fit of rage. Himachal Pradesh chief minister (Kangana’s home state) then entered this high-voltage drama. He asked New Delhi to provide safety and protection to her. Now, the actress has high-level security. She has now taken to attacking Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray directly. The PoK discourse has also broadened to include all sorts of allusions from Babar’s army to the Ram mandir.
This is the first time a film star has dared to challenge the Thackeray family. Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray spent more than four decades building the Sena. Now, his son Uddhav heads the organisation. It will be interesting to see how the Sena deals with this problem. It is worth noting here that, in the past, the Shiv sainiks were infamous for their vengeful politics.
It is appalling that the death of a talented young actor, Rajput, has taken such an ugly turn and that politicians and governments have jumped into the fray. There are elections in Bihar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have decided to make Rajput’s death an electoral plank. Posters have been printed saying “Na bhoolenge, na bhoolne denge” (We will not forget or let it be forgotten). The real issue should have been the performance of the coalition government in Bihar, but it is not.
The issue has moved beyond Bihar now. Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, has given the episode a new twist. He said that Chakraborty is being targeted because she is a Bengali Brahmin woman and that her father, a retired Army officer, also has the right to demand justice. He said that the issue is justice for Rajput, not justice for Bihar. Will this matter also affect elections in West Bengal?
India’s Constitution-makers imagined that India would be a group of territories with diverse languages, but common values of dignity, inclusiveness and humanity. Indian federalism was meant to be liberal with the state and central governments working together in the public interest.
I still think that deep down, all that is good and noble is still there in this country. And it is regrettable that people are being misled by these despicable charades, manufactured issues and unscrupulous politics. I am saddened by the death of Rajput. But it is even more hurtful that vested interests and politicians should seek to cash in on this unfortunate incident for petty gains.
The monsoon session of Parliament begins Parliament. It is expected that in this brief session without Question Hour, real issues will be replaced by misguided and inflammatory debates which cater to noisy TV channels. This should not happen at any cost for Indian democracy depends on the thorough, proper functioning of Parliament.
Let us hope better sense prevails and Parliament does its job which is to provide the right direction to the country.
A statement made by BR Ambedkar keeps popping into my mind. “However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.” Pay heed.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan Times. The views expressed are personal