The ever-readable Salil Tripathi, in his column in India’s Mint, points us to a disturbing story in Mumbai. The university there has withdrawn a book by renowned author Rohinton Mistry after a member of the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena group complained it was offensive to his party.
…Rajan Waulkar, vice-chancellor of Mumbai University became the poster child of acquiescence to bullying when he hastily withdrew Mistry’s acclaimed previous novel Such A Long Journeyusing his emergency powers, after an undergraduate student aspiring for political leadership of the Shiv Sena’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, complained that the book made disparaging remarks against his party and his people. His claim to lead the youth wing rests on what he considers his inherent birthright—he is born in the Thackeray family.
Such A Long Journey is a thoughtful narrative about the scarcity-prone India at the cusp of the Bangladesh war of 1971, when Gustad Noble, a bank clerk, gets enmeshed in a conspiracy to assist the Mukti Bahini, the India-backed armed group fighting for Bangladesh’s freedom. He is brought to the shadowy world by an old acquaintance who is an intelligence officer, loosely based on the life of Rustom Nagarwala, who allegedly imitated prime minister Indira Gandhi’s voice and got a State Bank of India officer to hand him Rs. 60 lakh after the phone call, ostensibly for Bangladesh’s liberation.
The junior-most Thackeray’s complaint is vague, and political analysts might see his grandstanding as part of his desire (and his father Uddhav’s desire) to regain political ground, ever since Uddhav’s bête noire, his cousin Raj Thackeray, began wolfing down the Shiv Sena’s jhunka bhakar through his party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Salil points out an uncomfortable truth for fundamentalists:
Hindu nationalists get riled when they are compared with Muslim leaders declaring fatwas. But the difference between those who want Such A Long Journey or Breathless in Bombay banned and the clerics who hate Rushdie—and the cartoonists of Jyllands-Posten—is marginal. Their threats chill free speech.