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usm-red.gif (836 bytes)Tin Soldiers and Rootless grass
Bal Thackeray, who could well give even Adolf Hitler a run for his money , sends out diktats about culture and its ethics which border on neo-fascist..counter this with scene in Bengal
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People donating books to village library burnt down by Mamata's hoodlums
pic : Shyamal Basu

The importance of books and sports can never be underplayed; for those of us who have seen Francois Truffaut’s "Fahrenheit 451" and Hugh Hudson’s "Chariots of Fire," this significance has always been not only a major occasion to rack our brains but a chance to get deeper into the meaning of whatever life stands for. But obviously, there are some among us who have other plans, other sources of inspiration; or why else, of all things, should books and sports be made the subject of petty politics? The answer could well be blowing in the wind. But the people need an answer.

Yet again, Bengal could well be on the way to providing an answer. It is now common knowledge that a section of politicians in this nation does not want it to remain intact; in fact, there is a veritable tug-of-war within the country all the time to tear it apart. There is a siege within and the less fortunate among us have to bear the brunt of this callousness in the form of homes without families after riots, and greater, large scale tragedies like the Babri Masjid demolition.

It is a sad reflection on our times that a party as communal as the BJP is allowed to hold on to power at the Centre and one of its political allies, the Shiv Sena, with a megalomaniac in the form of former cartoonist-turned party supremo, Bal Thackeray, who could well give even Adolf Hitler a run for his money , sends out diktats about culture and its ethics which border on neo-fascism. The less said about the BJP the better; its Central government first tried to impose the Saraswati Vandana on an unsuspecting meeting of state education ministers in Delhi recently, only to have its plans spoiled by the representative from Bengal; later, the party government in Uttar Pradesh has again tried to foist the Vandamataram and the Vandana on educational institutions in the state but has met with stiff opposition from sane intellectuals and politicians.

Mr Thackeray has gone even a step further; he has issued an "order" that nothing Pakistani will do in India; it could well be a ghazal rendition by Ghulam Ali or a cricket match where we can delight in the sight of the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, but his ``Sainiks’’ will ensure that such events are proscribed in a country which, during its birth, swore to stand by the ideals of secularism. Mr Thackeray has his own reasons; but even the worst lunatic among us has his own reasons for destroying the fabric of society. The sinister part of Mr Thackeray’s design is that his madness has a certain method; a method by which he holds sway over such a cosmopolitan city as Mumbai.

But again, yet again, Bengal has shown the way. The Left front Government’s home minister, Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharya, announced at a press conference in Calcutta on Saturday that the gates of the hallowed Eden Gardens would be open to all anytime and that the Pakistani cricket team could play as many games as they want to there. "The West Bengal Government is clear about its mission. We will not allow this country to be taken over and split by narrow communalism where even a mass sport like cricket is led to the sacrificial altar by the so-called gains of politics. I say this with responsibility that our government will play host to the Pakistani cricket team and while Islamabad may have differences with Delhi, the people of the two countries should not pay a heavy price. We will provide full security and ensure all the arrangements are according to schedule. Other states which have cricketing venues may take a leaf out from our book,’’ he announced.

Mr Bhattachary also said that his government had already finalised a concert by Ghulam Ali at the Rabindra Sadan auditorium in the heart of Calcutta in December. Incidentally, the ghazal maestro had been debarred from performing and insulted by the so-called ``soldiers’’ of Mr Thackeray some months back during a public function.

If it is cricket, then Bengal, always known to be culture-happy, cannot obviously be left behind when it comes to the most sacred tool of all culture:books. On October 31, a group of goons led by activists of that party, the Trinamul Congress , formed last year by that lady with the fake doctorate degree who projects herself as a political leader of national repute, Ms Mamata Banerjee, invaded the Balpai Daulatchak Library in Balpai of Hooghly district and razed it to the ground. The library had been set up more than 30years back and had been a beacon of light and knowledge for the lives of the poor villagers who took it upon themselves to make it grow; from a single reader who is now history, the library had now become a major source of inspiration for the poor. It was one of the major instances of social welfare as perceived by the state government for the last two decades; on a single day of unbalanced, mindless hooliganism, the storehouse of information lay reduced to ashes. The Goths did it eons back with the library at Alexandria, one of the many examples have why the Goths gave the word ``barbarian’’ to the dictionary. Ms Banerjee and her cohorts have earned that same epithet with some distinction.

However, the Democratic Youth Federation of India(DYFI), the youth wing of the CPI(M), took it upon themselves to set a wrong right; in an appeal which could perhaps only be matched by the zeal with which it received an overwhelming response, thousands of book lovers joined hands to donate books and money for the resurrection of a fountain of knowledge. The Library seems well on course to return to its old shape and on November 19, DYFI activists gathered more than 2,500 books from the public and around Rs 12,000 in cash. A dream, which ugly politics had well nigh tried to shatter, remains as tangible as ever.

Which brings us back to the main question; should politics be allowed to enter the arenas of culture and sports? Those with a warped sense of priorities would rather try to justify their thesis by saying that there is politics in every activity of society; what they fail to grasp is the bare fact that while that may be partly true, at least on paper, the logical among us would always try and ensure that such intrusions should be for betterment and not deconstruction. The Left Front Government, as is evident through its policy decisions, will not allow the ``soldiers’’ of Mr Thackeray to take over; neither will it allow fake doctorate-degree holders to teach us what should be done with information tools like books. Mr Thackeray can wield his stick on the mass of people that he enjoys some clout with; but even the uneducated will one day be taught. The dictator in Mr Thackeray may not understand this but the cartoonist in him will one day have to laugh at his own expense. The day of reckoning for the likes of Mr Thackeray and Ms Banerjee is not far off. And, as is now evident from the newspaper columns, they may not get a little help from their saffron friends when that hour arrives.

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