Why did Mumbai’s citizen-led and celebrity-endorsed activism fade out so soon after 26/11, asks Rishi Majumder
MUMBAI IS living in an apartment without knowing our neighbours. It is paying the maintenance of a building society whose meetings we don’t attend. It is having friends you meet only on the local train.
After 26/11, the one word that we used more than before was ‘group’. It was a novelty most celebrities endorsed. And we love what our celebrities endorse. We became members of societies whose meetings we’d attend, even if we couldn’t pay their maintenance. Those of us who knew about governance spoke. Others listened curiously. Celebrities interacted with commoners. And non-Maharashtrians in Mumbai, or Bombay, became a non-issue. Everyone marched, everyone lit candles.
‘I don’t feel like giving power to any negativity. Nothing positive happens. Only more hatred and more publicity for the evils’
Then we got the Chief Minister and Home Ministers (at state and centre) sacked. There was jubilation. Only we didn’t know what to do next. So we took the train home and paid the building society’s maintenance. Our celebrities drove home too. Some told their PR agencies to take that well-deserved holiday. The MNS got back to work.
‘What did I do after 26/11? I instantly made a song and took part in marches. No, I don’t think this relates to the state of Muslims. Muslims were part of my music video’
Half the celebrities we spoke to shied away from answering questions. What did they actually ‘do’ after 26/11? Where did the root issues of our country’s worst terror attack lie? Why were the same people who demonstrated against terrorists from Pakistan refusing to make a statement against regionalist terrorist organisations in their backyard? These were questions that made them say things like, “Call me later”. Then, “Call me a little later”. And finally, “You’re too late. Can’t talk now.” But we finally spoke to four ‘celebrities’ who really tried, and continue to do so. And asked them why they and so many others still failed.
The Bollywood music director and founder member of rock group Pentagram filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court after 26/11, seeking to prevent the media from broadcasting classified Army information as it had during 26/11. He got 23,000 signatures to support the petition. His next petition is against the building of a giant Shivaji statue in the middle of the ocean. He calls his initiative Small Change.
Why do you think so many post- 26/11 citizens’ groups have died down? Did you have a group as well?
No. I didn’t start any group or movement with Small Change. I am one guy, who said, “I will do this. Would you guys like to support me by signing up here?” I don’t want to start an office or have an organisation. I will personally take this thing to its end. And whoever wants to lend their weight to it with a signature, I will keep updating you as to what I’m doing to take this forward. Many groups told me, “Come and speak here. Come and join this.” I asked all of them: “What is your objective? And what is your timeline?” If you don’t have a concrete objective, you can’t achieve anything. Three lakh – or 30 thousand, whatever it was – people came to the Gateway Of India. They stood there, they lit their candles, they littered the place and they walked away. At best, they might have achieved the removal of the Chief Minister, which was utterly pointless.
Then what you’re saying is that the citizens’ fervour was misguided…
I would just say it wasn’t channelled correctly.
It wasn’t going anywhere…
But you know Bombay has this history of day-long fervour. Or week-long fervour.
And the post 26/11 groups which disappeared?
It’s simple human psychology. If there are seven hundred people in a group, and one person in that group feels that ‘If I don’t fulfil this task, somebody else will do it,’ then human nature is such that 700 out of 700 will feel that. What we need is ‘individual activism’.
You’ve spoken about the Shivaji statue in the sea being wasteful expenditure by the state. But what about it being an icon that promotes parochialism?
Now, you’re interpreting it as parochialism, whereas they’re interpreting as whatever the ‘state’ equivalent of nationalism is. It’s a question of interpretation. What is clear is that 350 crores of the state’s money is being thrown away on what is essentially a showpiece. And on the other side, we have farmers dying. In the face of that, with Mr [Ashok] Chavan, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra constantly saying, “We will make sure that this statue will happen”, let me constantly say, “I will make sure that this statue does not happen.”