How many decibels to the tiger’s roar?

Bal Thackeray, as I have said before, often reminds me of the good Queen in Alice in Wonderland who was wont to say, “Off with his head!” at the slightest pretext. With Thackeray, it is on again and off again. And he just doesn’t care about how ridiculous he might sound.

His latest call to ban the burkha in Bombay similarly came without much thought. The call was in response to many child-thefts from municipal hospitals in Bombay carried out by peole (may be men or perhaps women) dressed in burkhas. So while it is necessary for the authorities to prevent such thefts, why Thackeray’s call brought an element of the Wonderland to it was because, as it turns out, the authorities already had a way to prevent child thefts without needing to ban the burkhas at all.

The municipal corporation is run by the Shiv Sena and the municipal authorities have come up with an ideal solution: women guards to check women in burkhas and ask them to show their face if they suspect any foul play. So if this Sena-led wing of local self-government always knew how to battle the problem, where was the need — or indeed the hurry — to call for a burkha ban in Bombay? Particularly when Muslim women have said they would have no particular trouble in raising their veils before other women?

Thackeray’s extreme paranoia about Muslims is getting to be almost tiresome. But I wonder if he really considers them his enemy or it is just a calculated move to consolidate the saffron votes behind his party.

I recall Thackeray’s filthy abuse of then BJP president Bangaru Laxman when, soon after taking that job, he had called for an integration of Muslims into the Indian mainstream. Then he called for the disenfranchisement of minorities. He issued calls against Indo-Pak matches in Bombay. He tore up the cricket pitch at Wankhede stadium. He tried to ban migration of Muslims from other states to Bombay. And he rounded up Bihari and Bengali Muslims whom he regarded as Bangladeshis and dispatched them forthwith to Calcutta (Jyoti basu sent them back by return mail)!

Yet, despite all this, I remember, he invited Pakistani cricketers to his home, delighted in the biryani brought for him by film maker Sajid Nadiadwala, allowed a tabliqui-jamaat behind his home, Matoshree, in Bandra some years ago when the Sena was ruling Maharashtra in alliance with the BJP and even called for a secular monument in Ayodhya soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Thackeray’s flip-flops, though, as I have come to regard them, have little to do with his convictions — he waxes eloquent when he believes he might have the Muslim vote. He rants and rages when he believes they do not care about him. As, I am sure, by now most minorities don’t.

There was a time when they were willing to experiment with the Shiv Sena in the wake of their disappointment with the Congress. But now Thakceray’s thoughtless comments only make sure that the Sena stands no chance to get back into the reckoning and its hands victories by default to the Congress. His latest remarks, though, have taken the cake. Shivaji Park, long an open space seminal to Bombay’s culture, has always been crucial to the Sena’s political posturing. After all, it is named after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as has been the Shiv Sena, there is a huge statue of the Maratha warrior king that makes such a good photo opportunity for Thackeray to garland each time and, in addition, it is in the middle of a Sena stronghold (Dadar and its environs).

But now it is a silent zone that makes it difficult for Thackeray to hold his rallies (it is a lucky venue for him, he believes he loses if he holds rallies anywhere else). So to make his grandson Aditya’s public launch successful, he needed Shivaji Park desperately. Courts allowed the meeting with the codicil that decibel levels should be 50 or less. I believe the court’s condition was rather impractical as no rally can be held at such low noise levels. But, instead of fighting the issue on scientific, political and secular gorunds, Thackeray – why should I be surprised? – finds a religious twist to focus on: if you want my rallies to be held at low decibels, then ban loudspeakers from mosques as well, he says. What’s the connection?

However, he would never have expected his call to be pounced upon and turned upon its head by anti-noise activists. Sumaira Abdul Ali of the Awaaz Foundation who says, “It took some provocation to reach this point, since they as the Opposition Party, did nothing to ensure implementation of an affidavit filed by the Government over a year ago that all religious places would be declared Silence Zones– but hope has dawned once more. I do hope the endangered tiger means to stop roaring and get down to some action soon…The tiger was asleep while senior citizens and others were suffering because of the noise pollution from loudspeakers of every community, both late at night and early in the morning.”

Ali says, “Noise is secular by it’s very nature. It attacks people of every community and leaves them helpless to suffer it’s ill effects including hearing loss, high blood pressure, mental stress, heart disease and many others.” Thackeray suffers from all of those and also `many others’

But, still, his roaring, as detrimental to himself as to others, never ceases. Perhaps the courts should now attach a decibel metre to Bal Thackeray.

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