There was a Perry Mason mystery, written by Erle Stanley Gardner, so full of action and courtroom drama. In the courtroom, a lawyer argues successfully that his client pumped one of the two bullets into the body, but it was not the fatal one. Another bullet shot at the same time, at the same person, went to the heart and took the person's life. Therefore, his client was innocent.
Much of the same argument is being played out in Mumbai, in support of the defiance of the Supreme Court order, restricting the height of pyramids to 20 feet and banning children under 18 years from participating in Dahi Handi pyramids. Most of the organisers had kept the pot hanging at 20 feet, and children were kept away. If taller pyramids were formed, it was not to reach the pot.
This argument has been forwarded by Raj Thackeray, the head of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a breakaway rival of the Shiv Sena, led by his cousin, Uddhav Thackeray. If pyramids were formed to “give the salaami was higher’’ it was no violation of the court’s order. They didn’t reach for the pot. This is rather odd, as the Supreme Court order on the height was for safety purpose.
Chances are the ingenuous argument may be made in the Supreme Court, should someone move for contempt of court, or the apex body takes suo motu cognizance and speaks its mind. The nature of the argument put forth by the MNS leader, who had deliberately organised a Dahi Handi with an intent to have a nine-tier pyramid in Thane, is same as what Erle Stanley Gardner had thought of for his pulp fiction.
Thackeray made two other points: One, the courts should stay away from religious matters; and two, if there are restrictions on the use of public spaces, not grounds, but roads and footpaths, for installing Ganesh idols "should they be installed in the courtrooms instead?”
Firstpost has argued that Dahi Handi is not religious, even if it replicated on a taller scale, the antics of Krishna the child, to get to the butter his mother tried to keep out of his reach (read here and here).
Now, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has sought the opinion of the Advocate General if the sections of law applied to the violators of the height prescription like culpable homicide etc. could be withdrawn.
This smacks of the government’s inability to ready itself to deal with what was meant to transpire, and the possible political loss and gain. The political war between parties is carried out at various levels and with the next year’s civic elections, all parties are worried about votes, if not voters.
What takes the cake is the letter from the Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar to Fadnavis, which seeks to dilute the perception of the offences. He wrote, “The court verdict has to be respected by everyone” but “some Govinda squads have been booked under Section 308, which can adversely impact the lives of young Govindas. I urge you to take legal opinion from the State Advocate General, if necessary, before taking action.” Promptly, Fadnavis obliged, though the letter was subsequent to a visit to hospitals where Shelar and minister Vinod Tawde saw the injured.
The letter widely shared with the media points out that, “We met 14-year-old Ankush Nangre, who has seriously been injured. He has innocently committed the violation and is clearly unaware of the implications for his future.” The implications, Shelar has failed to understand, is what the apex court had in mind when it set out its order. So has Raj Thackeray. Earlier, elder cousin Uddhav had sought an ordinance promulgated to overcome the court orders.
If the provisions of law, which deal with endangering life or personal safety of others, disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant, are applied, and to Shelar are “serious sections” which “can adversely impact their (Govindas) future, then people responsible in pushing Ankush Nagre and such "innocents’’ into danger need to be made accountable. It could be the squad leader, or the squad which has enough political patronage to at least distribute t-shirts with their sponsorships emblazoned on them, and provide transport etc.
That is the least, of course. But organised defiance, in matters such as these, does not bode well for the well-being of a society. It is all very well for the government to switch between ‘religious event’ to ‘adventure sport’ without even specifying the norms under which it could be conducted, but be a master at knee-jerk reactions is hardly the way. Maharashtra, under Fadnavis’ stewardship, has had two years since 2014 to set them out after declaring it a sport. It dawdled, and it is now politics.