03 September, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 7, 1435

The siren call of fascism

Published Nov 22, 2012 12:05am

IT seemed like a bizarre train of thought at first but in hindsight perhaps an agreeable one, that as Bal Thackeray lay dying in a Mumbai hospital I was comparing renowned singers Lata Mangeshkar and Noorjehan in my mind.

Here was an Indian star that I thought no end of, one who symbolised the warm, calming hug her people badly needed after their bruising tryst with foreign rule and an even more lacerating struggle to win freedom.

That was Lata Mangeshkar. She could switch from a gentle morning pick-me-up in a Marathi ‘Bhoopali’ to a more nuanced love expressed in Persianised Urdu, linking two diverse strands of free India’s cultural mix. She could dredge out Ghalib’s soul with a purist’s diction and sway with Shakeel’s rustic verse in an eastern UP dialect for Dhanno in Ganga Jamuna with the gentlest inflection of her vocal cords.

Perhaps she was a born polyglot, I would think with admiration. How else could she deliver Iqbal’s Kabhi ae haqeeqat e muntazar with the swirl of a dervish?

‘When I bowed my forehead in supplication/the earth itself pleaded with me: /Your heart is riveted to an icon of stone/Why do you waste your time in namaaz?’

I have leaned on Iqbal’s complex lines, which Lata sang with uncluttered ease only to illustrate the romance she engendered in the halcyon days that came with independence.

Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi: what a team they made for a newly freed people. Their duets, so popular in Pakistan, in a sense defied the idea of Pakistan itself with their true notes. In some ways the duo single-handedly undid the communal damage that came with the partition, not just in India but in Pakistan too, where she remained a household favourite at the head of other great singers.

Then something snapped last week. In her moment of personal trauma, Lata Mangeshkar bared her heart. She revealed she felt orphaned by Bal Thackeray’s passing away, but she didn’t stop there.

She went on to describe the Shiv Sena chief as a “Hindu hriday samraat”, a ruler of Hindu hearts. We knew that it was how many of his admirers, his less intellectually gifted followers, shall we say, saw him.

People who knew her claimed that Lata Mangeshkar donated a sum of her earnings to the Shiv Sena. But all this was seen as a tithe decent folks often pay after 1992-1993 to keep nuisance at bay. But now she revealed she may have been a devout bhakta of Thackeray, the self-proclaimed fascist whose adulation of Hitler only matched his love for Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin.

Let’s leave alone his hatred of Muslims and of Pakistan. I thought a majority of people Thackeray hated were Hindus. They were Hindu Gujaratis, Hindu Biharis or their cousins from Uttar Pradesh, Hindu Tamils and others from South India, communists, Brahmins.

They were all Hindu, if they must be given that identity at all, but they were all targeted albeit selectively in different stages of the rise of the Shiv Sena. In one stroke Lata Mangeshkar had disowned millions of her ardent fans.

I am not even broaching Thackeray’s documented role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Did the singing diva of India, decorated with the country’s highest civilian honour, agree with the Ayodhya sacrilege? And did she get to read the Justice Shri Krishna Commission report on the anti-Muslim pogroms in Mumbai that followed the outrage in Ram’s birthplace? The killings, according to the report, were carried out by Thackeray’s foot soldiers, that she admires, in 1992-93. Is that what made her proud of the ruler of Hindu hearts?

Lata Mangeshkar has said she learnt some of the tricks of playback singing from listening to Noorjehan. They had a lot in common, including an army of followers that remained loyal to each, often to the exclusion of the other. They also sang for their armies, the real fighting ones.

And yet, as far as I can tell, Noorjehan would never have wooed religious fundamentalists, much less those who earn their keep from fomenting ill-will towards India. She wouldn’t have been a darling of Faiz if she had.

Thackeray of course had bigger fish to fry than playing The Godfather to his favourite admirer. He was a creature of India’s emerging consensus and that is the scarier part. It was his ability to cut across the political redlines, which anointed him as a more successful fascist than his other rightwing rivals have been shown to be.

Consider the grovelling and fawning news channels. And look at the grief writ on movie star Amitabh Bachchan’s face at Sunday’s funeral, or take corporate czar Anil Ambani who looked one of the most bereaved in the mêlée of Mumbai’s elite.

Both of them support the rightwing claimant to India’s top job, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and both have political associations that shore up the supposedly secular government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The fact is that Thackeray fulfilled corporate India’s need to suspend democracy if the going got tough and this would be done by a national consensus. He represented a militant, aggressive pro-market quest of the Indian state, one that can only be placated by bludgeoning its own people.

Every party needs to outdo the other in the bloody act. Lata Mangeshkar would appear to be a misfit in the gory denouement of India that Thackeray’s Shiv Sena revelled in. Else she could allow herself to beguile her fans with the siren call of fascism.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi. jawednaqvi@dawn.com

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Comments (27) (Closed)

Roshan Lal
Nov 22, 2012 05:24pm
I am glad I never was so quite taken up with Lata's gayaki or even her voice. To me her arrival on the scene in late 1940s represents a certain retreat from the assertive voices of the women pioneers in the earlier part of that decade. Lata's was a voice of meek submission and aesthetic regression. Her right-wing leanings and admiration of Hindutva politics got progressively more pronounced in last 15 years or so.
Mukund Mate
Nov 26, 2012 07:16am
Another biased article from the pre-coloured glasses of a person having preconcieved notions about anything Indian. As someone ( Guest ) said earlier in this bolg, it is good that the author is not a judge or else he would already declare India guilty even before the arguments have started. Meanwhile, a few observations here. It is highly deplorable why Lata Mangeshkar must be dragged into this at all. Just as the way Iqbal need not be dragged when he changed the lyrics of Saree Jahan se accha, HIndustan humarra.......... . Also, is there any secret why the funeral of Bal Thakarey was attended by this huge mass of people, or why Lata Mangeshkar decided to comment ( orphaned comment ) or why Amitabh Bachhan / Ambani was so disturbed at the funeral. Are all these people wrong and the only person right is this biased Jawed Naqvi. Talking of the 2003 incidents, would Jawed elaborte on how these Mumbai blasts happenned ? What triggerred these blasts in Mumbai and the subsequent riots. For his ( Jawed's ) favourie discussion on Modi, can he also share some light on how the Gujrat riots were started off. Does he know anything about the attacks on the trains that started it all.
Nov 23, 2012 09:46am
A beautifully written and very perceptive piece by Dawn Journalist, Jawed Naqvi. Fascism is a dangerous siren, whispering to us in our most secret ear about the thrill of hate and revenge. In contrast, love and forgiveness (both very demanding) seem weak and insipid! We human beings have to choose, thus creating the world we live (or die) in! Anna Sujatha Mathai.
Iftikhar Husain
Nov 22, 2012 04:26pm
Thank you Mr Naqvi for your article there are people who have courage to speak.
Nov 22, 2012 07:19pm
very aptly written and sheds a little light on Hindu extremism
Nov 23, 2012 02:14am
Excellent Analysis, but fortunately India is bigger than Thackeray and Modi and their admirers. So even as these fascist icons may attract millions, they will never have majority in India.
Nov 22, 2012 09:52pm
I read columns by many writers like M J Akbar. Most writiers are fair and do justice to journalism. This author never gets good comments because he looks everything from his colored glass. One dimensional and convoluted. He needs to wake up or Dawn should drop him.
Nov 22, 2012 09:16pm
"People who knew her claimed that Lata Mangeshkar donated a sum of her earnings to the Shiv Sena. But all this was seen as a tithe decent folks often pay after 1992-1993 to keep nuisance at bay. But now she revealed she may have been a devout bhakta of Thackeray, ...." Clearly shows that Jawed Naqui changes his words as it pleases him. So he first claims Lata was looking at Thakray as nuisance. How do you become bhakta of a nuisance to yourself Mr Naqui? So it means it means your earlier information of "People who knew Lata" were wrong. How do we know your current conclusion is correct when you yourself change your stand? May be after 5 years you will say something else. You do not leave any chance of trying to divide Hindu and Muslim population of India. You do not understand the dynamics of being an Indian at all. Here is another insulting sentence for Thakrays followers: "We knew that it was how many of his admirers, his less intellectually gifted followers, shall we say, saw him." - Thank god the author did not become a judge, otherwise he would deliver the judgement even before any argument.
Nov 24, 2012 10:34pm
Mr. Naqvi, a good article and analysis. Some correct and some wrong in my undestanding. Bal Thackerey had a strong hold in Marathi politics and actually did do some good stuff as far as public service is concerned. Whe you say that Anil Ambani and Amitabh both support Narendra Modi as PM, then there might be a few things in Modi that these leaders see. They see a pro market and forward looking non corrupt politician. If Modi could improve his standing among minorities and specially with Muslims by promoting peace and harmony, that could indeed make him PM of India.
Nov 22, 2012 08:21am
This celebrity watch irritates me.Why should Lata's personal opinions held out for judgement? We should enjoy her songs and leave her views on politics aside.
Nov 22, 2012 09:13am
i as an indian and l still dont disown lataji for saying what she said and yes i am not a hindu u are a Pakistani Muslim so u will always be biased, everybody loved and hated tackarey he even spoke against christian in the 80s i heard his speech at dadar a recorded speech on speakers whatever e was he was a nationalist i am a goan catholic we have never voted for shivsena, but have been helped by shivsena shakas many times, i am a mumbaikar, and miss bal tackrey, he had a role to fill in maharastra politics he was honest said wht he believed regarding Mumbai riots pls check how it started Richie
Keti Zilgish
Nov 22, 2012 03:22pm
No big discovery here. Every one knows that all political parties are made for the capitalists, by the capitalists and comprise capitalists. Both Lata and Noorjahan are capitalist stooges too. Big deal?
Nov 22, 2012 11:27am
Lata and Thakray's relations were never political, so there is no question of her reading of any commissions report. As Lata Mangeshkar has already said, he was like her father (don't read godfather as she was already too popular before Thakray became influential). Did Mr Naqui himself ever bother to read the report? I do not think so. You don't do these things unless its your business, right Mr Naqui? Also the author does not know the difference between ShivSena founded by Bal thakray who in the beginning opposed the South Indians and the MNS founded by his nephew Raj Thakray who is opposing the economic migrants from north India who are adding to the filth of already overcrowded Mumbai. Bal Thakray also has clearly and audibly said he hates only pro-pakistan muslims and not every muslim living in India. if it was so, then why would he have invited Javed Miyandad to his home for Dinner and receive him personally. Also, there were 2.5 million people at his funeral, so does the author imply that from a population of Mumbai of say 15 million, almost 12 - 16 % people are fascist? Illogical to say the least. Mr. Naqui seems to blindly hateful to Mr Thakray for reasons which are beyond logic but based only on personal opinion.
Nov 22, 2012 11:34am
She is already not working anymore.
Nov 22, 2012 11:32am
The author is blinded by his hatred towards anything that is non pro Muslim, which he unmistakably refers to as fascism. Read his old article and you would know.
Nov 22, 2012 08:44am
Nov 22, 2012 07:07am
Excellent discovery Javed Naqvi Sahib. Amazing how innocent looking Lata has been pulling wool over the eyes of billions of people over such a long time. The earlier she retires the better.
Nov 22, 2012 06:45am
One of the rare occasions when, I fully agree with Javed Saab. As a secular Indian I hang my head in shame at this disgraceful display of cowardice.
Nov 22, 2012 06:08am
Terrific article. Well done and we need more such commentary.
Nov 22, 2012 01:36pm
A really candid and courageous piece. I salute Mr Jawed Naqvi for exposing hypocrites like Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachan, Mukesh Ambani. Perhaps they sincerely believed and agreed with Thackery's fascist views or else they were too scared to rub him the wrong way. Anyway it's well known that the Bollywood film industry was completely in the grip of Shiv Sena.
Nov 22, 2012 04:06pm
Amazing that once again, Mr. Navqvi pulls out a few sentences that others have been uttering and puts them together in an article that is full of bogus points. It is ridiculous to keep harping on issues from the past that have already been pointed out to be incorrect. Bal Thackerey had better and deeper, more meaningful relationships with more Muslims than you or any of his "Islamic" critics Mr. Naqvi. And a lot of them were at his funeral.
Good Samaritan
Nov 22, 2012 10:42am
This is exactly what I define as an article simply written by people who are far away from reality. Thackrey is much more complex a person then what English media and Islamic media potrays him as. Yes he did speak against Muslims but only when they did series of blasts across the city in 1993 which killed hundreds of innocent people. I hate to read such biased articles which deliberately left out mentioning about action and counter action. In most of the communal instances, it has been seen that minorities start the fire and then when majority gets violent, their loss becomes tremendous.Modi did not start eh riot, it started with Godhra killing of Kar sevaks, similarly Thacrey was not born anti Muslim, he hated them when they did the balsts. Moreover I feel no Pak citizen has moral right to write anything about India as they have been actively sponsoring and hiding the top rated criminals of India.
Nov 22, 2012 02:15pm
Look who is talking ... the grand ideals of ethics and brotherhood coming from a country who has spawned venom and hatred towards its neighbours, I am no fan of the departed soul nor do I agree with his ways but would not like to hear such preachings from some one who doesnot practice it himself. If the sena had a nationwide following it would have been in power for all these years, but forget the nation they could not even come to power in their own state except for a single term. That speaks a lot about the choices we Indian make . The incidents of Babri / 92-93 and 2000 are indeed a blot on India's conscience but still the absence of tolerism and bigots on the other side have a big rle to play in this . And look at your country, it has become breeding ground for fanatic evils out to destroy the fabric of peace and love everywhere. My heart goes for the innocent victims not only in India but in your country as well. And please , dont tell me about noorjahan and all ,,, with due respects everyone is entited to his personal beliefs . When Iqbal changed from sare jaha se achcha hinostaan hamara to ....taan hamara , we did not comment on his personal choice . His song is stll our quomi tarana. Please mind your house first .. and let us take care of ours ... would really appreciate .
Nov 22, 2012 05:02am
Thackeray's funeral showed that India is not too far away from a marketable democratic fascism. The only ray of hope the plague is confined to Maharashtra and Gujarat -- the rest of India is immune to it.
Nov 22, 2012 09:44am
Article is unbiased but one correction is there,bal thackerey hated Pakistan artist because in Pakistan most of time in history they banned bollywood movies,bala saaheb said that first Pakistan uplift complete ban on bollywood movies than we welcome pak artist so what's wrong in that.
lalit bagai
Nov 22, 2012 07:00pm
poor countries should first provide food, clothing, homes, jobs , electricity, clean water education . all this talk about fascism is just a occupation with some people. they have everything listed above, and enough time to give names to others. a fascist country which gives people a decent life is preferable to a democratic country which does not. i think china is better than many asian countries.
Nov 23, 2012 01:38pm
The problem with this author is, when it comes to India, he only sees the glass as 'half empty' and not as 'half full'.