Sania Mirza unites the bigots!

I never believed much in former Prime Minister V P Singh – always blamed him for dividing the Indian social fabric. According to me we were cruising along quite nicely until he encouraged the protests that erupted during the period that caste reservations were lapsing constitutionally and then added fuel to the fire by dusting off the Mandal Commission recommendations. That, I believe, turned L K Advani into a charioteer – he had a desperate need to respond to Mandal with ‘kamandal’, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately for me, Singh was a good friend of a good friend of mine. So there were occasions when I could not escape conversations over dinner with the former Prime Minister. Gradually I realised the man did have some redeeming qualities. And not the least was a certain kind of wisdom that is fast disappearing among our modern-day politicians.

So the thing that stuck foremost in my mind after a particularly revealing conversation with Singh was his exhortation not to fall into the trap set by extremists. That advice came when I was reporting on the Maharashtra government’s attempt to move slum dwellers settled on the edges of the Borivli National Park – both Shabana Azmi, working on behalf of the Left, and Bal Thackeray, on the right, had exactly the same positions on the issue: both had exhorted the slum dwellers, for their own different reasons, to dig their heels in and not accept the government package that involved them being moved to other settlements.

“It is my experience that very often the extreme left and the extreme right agree on the same things. The reasons may be different but rare is the occasion when they do not come to the same positions.”

I thought Singh should know best since he had run his brief 10-month government with support of both the right and the left. But it took some years for me to see his reasoning. He had told me that he used the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ rather loosely. “But what I say could be true of all opposite groups on the same or any particular issue.”

The wisdom of his words came back to me when I realised that while I had been under attack from Hindu bigots all my life, who would call me all kinds of names for not agreeing with their positions, it was ditto with Muslim bigots who have taken to abuse me as profusely, as often and virtually in the same terms as the saffronists for not agreeing to: a) their contention that the 26/11 attacks on Bombay were mounted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; b) that Kasab and his co-terrorists were speaking Marathi at the Cama and Albless Hospital, proving that the RSS was involved (unfortunately for them I was on the board of the Cama hospital until the end of 2008 and I ascertained for myself that nothing of the kind had happened) ; c) since David Headley, that the CIA and the Mossad were behind 26/11 (Israelis killing their own citizens at Chabad House, an act even more brutal than the Taj and Trident killings?!!) and lately that the two young boys picked up by former Bombay ATS chief K P Raghuvanshi for plotting to attack the ONGC were “innocent” and so what if they were in constant touch with their chacha who was involved in the 1993 Bombay blasts and now lives in Pakistan!

I told them off in no uncertain terms on all the issues but I must admit I was taken aback to be then called the same names by these groups that I have been by the saffron ones all these years. But even before I could recover from the shock of the discovery, I find V P Singh being proved true all over again in the positions that have been taken on Sania Mirza on both sides of the border.

As though she did not have enough problems to contend with in Ayesha Siddiqui, another Hyderabadi Indian girl, who has demanded a divorce from Shoaib Malik before he marries Sania, the Shiv Sena has taken objections to that marriage as has Abu Asim Azmi of the Samajwadi Party. But while I can understand the Shiv Sena’s positon, Azmi’s reasons for opposing the marriage are beyond me — though both the Sena and Azmi insist she should marry an Indian and not a Pakistani (well, there must surely be something wrong with Indian men if they could not gain Sania’s heart)!

Then again both the Shiv Sena and Pramod Muthalik of the Sri Ram Sene in Karnataka have demanded that Sania stop playing for India and restrict herself to playing for Pakistan after she marries Malik. So has the chairperson of the Pakistan Tennis Federation Dilawar Abbass. I wonder how, except for going to London and burning up the tennis court at the Olympic stadium and at Wimbledon, either of the groups, in India or Pakistan, proposes to stop Sania playing for India.

It is not as though international marriages of this kind have not taken place before. Bollywood actress Reena Roy did marry a Pakistani cricketer of her times without any such fuss. Sri Lankan cricketer Murlitharan Muthaiah is also married to an Indian doctor, Madhimalar. I remember at the time of their marriage Madhimalar said she would start cheering Lanka after her wedding. And the LTTE which had killed an Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was still around and thriving at the time. But no one thought Madhimalar was being unpatriotic!

Sania, for her part, has avowed she will continue to cheer for India no matter what even when India is playing Pakistan; cheer Shoaib only when he is playing any other team but India and, moreover, her favourite cricketer continues to be not her future husband but Sachin Tendulkar!

Put that in your pipe and smoke it is what I would like to tell those who are making an issue of Sania’s forthcoming marriage for their own petty gains. Nothing could be pettier or demonstrate more how completely bankrupt of ideas, issues and ideology these people really are.

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