The Light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
(Gospel, Matthew, 6:22)
My skimpy acquaintance with the Taj hotel in what was then Bombay goes back to 1962.
I had been selected as a rookie sales executive by the then world’s largest corporate house, Standard Oil, whose Asia division was called ESSO.
Our offices, also then the only air-conditioned building in Bombay, was at Nariman point.
Such was the nature of my job that on two or three occasions I had to be inside the Taj, full of smiles and business.
Some three years later I decided I wasn’t going to sell oil for the next forty years, and I quit cold turkey to return happily to an academic life, liberally enlivened with activist involvements.
In short, the Taj hotel is truly a magnificent structure, although those days it made me happier to look at its magnificence from the outside than wheeling-dealing inside.
Like every other Indian, therefore, I am deeply saddened both by the insane loss of life, notable and ordinary, and by the damage done to this edifice. Especially when I recall that the Taj was the result of a laudable anti-colonial impulse, since Jamshedji had been refused entrance to another hotel reserved exclusively for the British.
My thoughts are here occasioned by a programme that one premier English-language electronic channel has been running since last night.
As I have listened to the outrage pouring out from a diverse assortment of some celebrity Mumbai citizens whose haunts habitually remain restricted to the affluent South Mumbai—a zone of peace and prosperity that has had its first rite of passage to the ugliness that afflicts the rest of the city, indeed the rest of India, and rest of the world—I find myself asking the question “who is it saying ‘enough is enough’, to whom, and why now”?
And how credible is the slogan of unity- at- any -cost that now so invigorates the fortunate classes in the wake of this traumatic experience?
And why should these imperious syllables calculated to shut off debate be received with unquestioning compliance when the mind is wracked by instances when South Mumbai-India has failed to employ the same “single eye” to pronounce on other murderous and murderously divisive events?
Today, thanks to the exemplary courage and discipline of India’s security forces, the Taj may have been disfigured and damaged, however brutally, but not demolished—something that seemed to have been the intent of the terrorist attack.
But, alas, some sixteen years ago a four-hundred year old iconic mosque was axed and hatcheted out of existence while the forces stood and watched, as did the whole nation on television.
Neither that fateful day, nor once in the last sixteen years, has the cry gone up “enough is enough” on behalf of those that are now so outraged. Educated noises have been made, which is not the same thing as saying never again should this country countenance social forces that brought that watershed calamity about.
Only conscientious citizens have struggled since to bring succour and justice to the victims, often suffering opprobrium from elite India that sees them as busybodies.
Indeed, the worthies that were visibly culpable in inflicting that blood-thirsty catastrophe on the nation continue to remain in good favour with influential sections of the corporate media which may have carried on a debate on the issue but never admonished “enough is enough.”
Some two hundred lives have been lost to the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Yet when, following the demolition of the Babri mosque, our own people killed a thousand or so of our own people in the very same Mumbai, the debate never ceased, and has not to this day.
Nor has the same terminal urgency that is now in evidence informed elite comment as to why those found guilty in that massacre (1992-93) by a high-powered Commission of Enquiry have not been given their due deserts
And what of the Gujarat massacres of 2002? No terrorists from outside there too, but our own good citizens, secure in the knowledge that they had the blessings of the top man in the job. The very top man who continues to be the darling of many elites who do not fight shy of drooling over what a wonderful chief executive he would make for the whole country, full of “development” and profit maximization.
No wonder that Mr.Modi should have been the first to hold a press briefing outside “ground zero” (am I sick of that copy-cat phrase) even while the bullets were flying, making it an occasion to deride no less than the Prime Minister.
The same Mr.Modi who until the other day publicly vented his strongest barbs at the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) for daring to enquire into cases of Hindutva terrorism.
Narry an “enough is enough” there; only a shamefaced disapproval barely audible on the channels.
Indeed, should you ask me, I might say that the most heroic vignette during the current imbroglio has been the refusal of the widow of the slain Karkare, erstwhile head of the ATS, to accept Modi’s devious offer of money.
As also an SMS doing the rounds, asking where Raj Thackeray, the great divisive champion of Marathi interests, has been while Mumbai was being butchered? And did he know that it was security personnel drawn from all over the country, including overwhelmingly from the north and the south, who were dying to save his Marathi manoos as much as anyone else in the city?
The same Thackeray clan to whom South Mumbai never seems to say “enough is enough,” cannily remembering that in time of trouble they may after all have no recourse but to their lumpen mercy.
And how ironic that we should then lament how the spirit of a grand unity so eludes us ?
In one brief word, why do we not ever hear an unequivocal “enough is enough” in relation to the politics of fascist communalism? Or an unequivocal recognition of its intimate bearing on terrorism? Why do these realities remain subjects of TV debates from endless week to endless week wherein the culprits are afforded more than equal time?
Speaking of unity, there are other fissures we refuse to acknowledge, not to talk of battle, fissures that reveal equally blatantly the mote in our jaundiced eye.
A former Prime Minister of India died the very morning that Mumbai was attacked.
Not once through these days have I noticed the slightest mention even in a ticker tape on any channel but one. I mean not even the news of his passing.
And not just because our elite channels were so engrossed in bringing to the nation every second of the attack on the Taj and the Oberoi.
Let me say this: had it not been him but another former Prime Minister who is still happily with us, although ill and sidelined by his own party, the channels would at the least have divided their time equally between him and the events in Mumbai.
So why was Vishwanath Pratap Singh so rudely and with such vulgar disdain ignored even in his passing?
Because, I venture to say, there has been no more a hated figure for South-Mumbai India than him who was not merely a man of integrity next only to Nehru, and secular to the same timbre, but perhaps the most imaginative political mind of India since Nehru.
And he was hated because he had the vision and the courage to implement the Mandal Commission Report which recommended reservations in jobs and education for what the Constitution calls India’s “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs). All in consonance with explicit injunctions made by the Constitution itself.
That measure was not seen by India’s habitually-ruling upper castes as one intended to bring the neglected into the life of the nation—indeed to cement a more unified nation—but as one deviously calculated to divide the polity. And they never forgave him.
It is another matter that as the years have gone by, that measure has been endorsed, indeed taken to heart, by the very forces that reviled it violently on the streets at the time. No more far-reaching tribute to the historical imperative that he then embraced.
And those whose hands have the blood of the aftermath of the mosque demolition and of the Gujarat massacre on them saw him as the Muslim-loving, “anti-national” villain whose object it was to divide Hindus.
As though Hindus were not divided already for millennia on end.
No surprise that as V.P.Singh was cremated today, the only political leadership one saw there in attendance belonged to the OBCs and Dalits! If there was any local or low-level representation of other parties, who cares. None of that could make up for what the occasion said about the current elite outrage that India must look at India with a “single eye.”
I surfed all the channels when the last rites were in progress. Not a single channel other than Doordarshan, the official TV outlet, covered the event!
And, it bears repeating, that had it been the other former Prime Minister, I can bet you my last penny they would all have been there.
So much then for the call for unity.
Lastly, I have a message for the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack.
They have circulated an email in which they claim that, among other objectives—killing Americans, Britishers, Zionists—they are acting on behalf of India’s Muslims.
I say to them that in doing what they have done, they have committed the most grievous and heinous disservice to Indian Muslims.
There may well be an Indian Muslim here or there who resonates to the violent politics of revenge, as do members of other religious communities, but the great mass of Indian Muslims, as indeed the great mass of Muslims in Pakistan, have been making it abundantly known that instances of such violence and carnage perpetrated on their behalf not only run counter to what they want from life but damage their strenuous efforts to pursue those ends fatally.
Indeed, Indian Muslims have come to recognize, a recognition they have been at pains to voice repeatedly from every conceivable organized public forum, that those who perpetrate terrorist violence are no Muslims in the first place.
In the name of Allah, then, whom you never tire of invoking, desist and do something more useful and humane with your lives, something that true religion might indeed approve of.
Nor must you think that the course you pursue is about to dethrone global imperialism.
If that be your objective, there is no substitute for democratic, mass mobilization, and for an informed and argued strengthening of opinion within what nations you belong to.
In any case, do not involve Indian Muslims in any of your global concerns. And Pakistani Muslims as well.
A fine future awaits them. And many thousands to fight for their cause. Do not be their enemies.
And to South-Mumbai India we say, ask yourself what sort of unity you are looking for? Such as allows you peaceably and happily to continue to cream off India, or a just unity that, seeing with a “single eye” everywhere, gives in due measure? And a “single eye” that condemns evil in whatever shade it appears, be it green, red, or saffron. And, most of all, that turns that “single eye” periodically inward to condemn, foremost, the gluttony that resides there.