It was like Mohammed Ali Road had been transported to Gowalia Tank, home to the August Kranti Maidan immortalised by the 1942 Quit India Movement. This was the site of Mumbai's protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC as part of the nationwide 19 December protests. Small groups of youths, some carrying red flags, did their own thing here and there. But overall, outside the maidan, as far as one could see, it was a sea of Muslims, carrying placards, or proclaiming their right to equal citizenship just by being there.
Researching a series of lynchings which took place in Mumbai's 92-93 riots, where Muslims were caught alone on the roads would be set upon, I used to wonder: what courage made these Muslims venture out dressed in their traditional attire, when mobs inflamed by the Ayodhya agitation roamed the city looking for prey? For years later, whenever I saw anyone looking unmistakably Muslim in a non-Muslim area, I'd cross my fingers.
And now, here they were, confidently filling the very streets where they had been hunted down. Irony of ironies, the sense of safety they obviously felt now was thanks to the very forces that had rendered them vulnerable then. The main players of those dark days are in control again: the Congress, which ruled then the state and Centre; the Shiv Sena, held responsible by a judicial Commission for much of the violence, Sharad Pawar, the then defence minister sent to Mumbai to handle the situation, and the Mumbai police.
Justice B N Srikrishna's Inquiry Report concluded that had the police tactfully handled the first spontaneous protests by Muslims after the Babri Masjid demolition, instead of shooting at them, the situation wouldn’t have degenerated. Thursday's (19 December) demonstrations illustrated how peaceful, and even creative, protests can be, if people are allowed the space and time to vent their anxiety and anger.
We must learn to forget the riots, this reporter was told when the Maharashtra government was sworn in three weeks ago. Truth be told, except for those whose lives changed forever by the violent loss of a beloved family member, the riots have been forgotten.
That’s natural too. Twenty-seven years is almost a generation. Mumbai’s youth are not burdened with the memories that cast a shadow for at least a decade after the riots.
Mumbai too has changed. The ghettoes created and strengthened by the riots continue to exist. But the globalised economy that began to dominate Mumbai post-2000, has ensured that the city’s work and leisure spaces belong to all. Muslims are confident claimants here.
An even bigger change incomprehensible for those outside Mumbai is the gradual transformation of the lead player of the riots. Today, it is not Hindutva that defines the BJP's oldest ally. For almost a decade now, the Shiv Sena's belligerent Hindutva utterances have been treated as "just politics" by the city’s politically-active Muslims. Unlike the BJP, the Sena is not seen as anti-minority at its core.
In fact, soon after it first assumed power in 1995, just two years after the riots, Muslim victims were surprised to find that Sena MLAs were far more helpful than their jaded Congress counterparts.
There’s a second reason too, for the phenomenon of the Muslim Shiv Sainik. The Sena's core values of Marathi pride and reverence of Shivaji are shared by Marathi-speaking Muslims, estimated to number 50 percent more than Urdu-speaking counterparts in Maharashtra. But because the latter are a majority in Mumbai, successive governments have let their politics of religious identity, characteristic of the North, dominate Muslim politics in Maharashtra. You just have to step out of Mumbai into the suburb of Kalyan to see evidence of Muslims’ historical ties with the Maratha empire.
The damage done by Bal Thackeray’s portrayal of Shivaji as anti-Muslim was huge, but he’s no longer around. His son’s personality, described as "sober and willing to listen", is a third factor for the hope Muslims have in the Sena.
The fourth is their disillusionment with their traditional patron. In 2013, when the State-appointed Mehmood-ur Rehman Committee submitted its report on the backwardness of Maharashtra’s 10.6 percent Muslims, the Congress alone or in coalition, had ruled the state for 46 of the 53 years of the state's existence. So damning were its findings that the then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan didn’t table it. The report only added to the alienation of a community already reeling under continuous arrests of its educated youth on terror charges, ordered by NCP home ministers.
Is it surprising then that while across India, secularists have expressed unease at the new ruling coalition, in Maharashtra, Muslims have welcomed it? The BJP is out. The two "secular parties" can no longer assert their age-old fiefdom over Muslim votes by claiming to be fighting "communal forces”; they are now openly aligned with one of them.
If the BJP creates communal trouble, Muslims know they won’t be at the undependable mercies of the Congress-NCP. The Sena knows how to handle the BJP, they say: lohe ko loha hi kaat sakta hai.
Therein lies the reason for the exuberant mood of Mumbai’s anti-CAA-NRC protest. Fears of BJP disruption were countered by pointing out that this time, Uddhav Thackeray was the home minister. Aptly, one placard read: "Uddhavji, thank you for your support against India being divided."
Was this true? How does one interpret the Sena’s ambivalence in Parliament over the Citizenship Amendment Act? The NCP was quick to gloss over the tension created by the Congress’ disapproval of the Sena’s support for the Bill in the Lok Sabha. Sharad Pawar is the architect of this coalition, and he’s not going to let ideology rock it.
Prominent Muslims from Mumbai had met Thackeray on the eve of the Rajya Sabha vote. If they are disappointed, they aren’t going to voice it. They’ve seen worse betrayals.
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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2019 14:38:21 IST