Saturday, Sep 14, 2002
Front Page |
Southern States |
Other States |
Advts: Classifieds | Employment | Obituary |
Leader Page Articles
By Dipankar Gupta
THERE IS an inescapable sense of deja vu in all this. Personalised power once again triumphs over established institutional norms and laws. Manisha Koirala is not content with the court so she gets Bal Thackeray's personal power on her side and wins. No matter what the courts have ruled, regardless of the laws against arson and violence, no movie theatre dare screen Ek Chhotisi Love Story because Mr. Thackeray says so. As Senapati of the Shiv Sena, Mr. Thackeray has made a lifetime's reputation in scoring over the law by bold assertions of personalised power.
Mr. Thackeray realised early in his political career that the film industry was where his kind of political muscle power would do very well. With this in mind he established the Chitrapat Shakha within two years of setting up the Shiv Sena. Since then there have been many occasions for the Sainiks to take to the streets and go on the rampage when film stars or producers offend them. The intimidation of cinema hall owners by Sainiks on Ms. Koirala's account today is not new at all. As far back as in 1968 Mr. Thackeray let loose his men against Dilip Kumar. They attacked theatres where his movies were playing because Mr. Kumar had dared to criticise Mr. Thackeray. The Shiv Sena also refused to allow certain films to be screened because their producers were from South India.
Not just the film world, Shiv Sainiks have, over the years, attacked authors as well whose writings on either Shivaji or Ambedkar did not agree with Mr. Thackeray's views. Mr. Thackeray also directed his followers to attack trade unions and trade unionists. The Sainiks even burnt down the priceless headquarters of the Girni Kamgar Union which housed valuable archival material, including handwritten notes by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose. In 1977, Mr. Thackeray gave full licence to his corporator, Pramod Navalkar, to lead the anti-price rise movement which really meant harassing hapless shopkeepers. What is common in all these incidents is that Shiv Sainiks were never effectively stopped by the police. Given this kind of official support, the Shiv Sena successfully branded itself from its early days as an organisation that was dismissive of the law.
Quite clearly, the Sena did not get this striking power overnight. It has been around since 1966 and practically every Government at the Centre and in Maharashtra has supported its style of functioning because at some point or the other they all needed Mr. Thackeray. This is what allowed the Sena to consolidate itself as an organisation specialising in the politics of unaccountability. This style of politics can only succeed when there is a general acquiescence at all levels that institutional laws and institutional well-being (to use Andre Beteille's phrase) are not important. Unless these are undermined it is impossible for personalised power to come into its own.
The entire political establishment is to be blamed for the awesome reputation the Shiv Sena enjoys today. Further, while organisations such as the Shiv Sena can easily be spotted as purveyors of the politics of unaccountability and of personalised power, it is not as if they are alone in this business. Other organisations too indulge in bouts of personalised power though they may not be as deliberately egregious as the Shiv Sena is on this issue. Nor is it that only the weak and the helpless are victims of personalised power. Major industrialists who are adept at breaking every law in the book and running up non-performing assets to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees, quail at the threat of personalised power. One telephone call to them from a politician's office conveying a certain unhappiness is enough to bring these powerful corporate bosses to their knees.
Personalised power bears an inverse relationship with institutional law. If there is more of one there will be less of the other. It is, therefore, important to know why institutional law, which is impersonal and impartial, can be so easily bypassed in favour of personalised power in our country. In a society which is inefficient and where the normal rights of citizens are far from being realised, it is almost true by definition that personalised power will triumph. As a citizen one is not guaranteed medical care, education, old age pension, or any other form of social insurance to take care of the vicissitudes of life. In such a scenario it is almost inevitable, even rational, that there should be an all-out search for patrons who can break the law and bring relief at a very individual and personal level.
It must be acknowledged, even if it hurts, that the Shiv Sena's popularity does not depend solely upon rowdies and the bad sort. A substantial chunk of sympathy for the party comes from ordinary, every day people in Mumbai, and elsewhere, who want some help with faulty electricity connections, gagged sewer lines or admission to hospitals and schools. These are mundane necessities of every day life and the inability to deliver on such quotidian fronts is what gives an opening to personalised power to enter our unremarkable lives. Very simply put, not only is the size of the cake in India small, it is also poorly baked.
Consequently, the law gets to work only in cases where personalised power is not interested. When the elite want things done their way, personalised power comes in very handy. Dhirubhai Ambani was widely acknowledged for being particularly adroit at managing this kind of "environment". The close connections that politicians of different hues have with the rich and famous of our country are easily visible to the naked eye. This is why when on occasions any social notable speaks out in the name of justice, personalised power quickly muffles such expressions. After the recent communal carnage in Gujarat, Narendra Modi's Government systematically and successfully silenced many high-profile entrepreneurs who spoke out against the administration.
The grip that personalised power has on our lives is very difficult to shake off. The organised minority does not want to curb personalised power as it has a lot to gain from it. The disorganised majority cannot challenge personalised power either because the needs of the underprivileged in India are so enormous that they would welcome every crumb that comes their way. Anand Patwardhan's film Bombay, Our City demonstrates just how vulnerable slum dwellers are to politicians for water, electricity and a roof over their heads. As none of these are even remotely guaranteed by the state, the survival of the poor depends upon the personalised power of the political patron.
So at all levels, rich, poor and middle class, we are susceptible to the lure of personalised power. There is very little compunction in this land in breaking the law, or having others break it for you. But when faced with the threat of personalised power we stand to attention. When personalised power works in our favour it is wonderful, but it becomes objectionable only when it turns against us. Ms. Koirala was on the other side when some years ago Mr. Thackeray went after Bombay, a film in which she starred. But today, she has Mr. Thackeray on her side and sees nothing wrong with him or his brand of politics. What then does this have to say about democracy? Do we really elect representatives, or do we democratically elect patrons in the hope that one day we will personally benefit from their patronage?
(The writer is Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU.)
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | Home |
Copyright © 2002, The
Hindu. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of