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The more things change, the more they tend to remain same. Shiv Sena’s latest rant against famous writer Shobha De proves this. Even after decades, neither has Shiv Sena changed, nor its antics. It continues to play on regional sentiments while targeting those who believe in articulating their opinions freely.
You may not be a Shobha De fan and you may not be in agreement with what she says or thinks about Vada Pav and Misal. But, if you have even a modicum of democracy left in you, you would appreciate that she has a right to criticize a government decision that forces cinema owners to show films in a particular language, in this case Marathi, at a specific time. Governments and legislatures have a right to formulate laws, which may be insular in some cases. But, the citizens also have a right to criticize such laws, verbally that is.
The fact that Shiv Sena has launched a frontal attack on Shobha De, who has criticized the state government’s attempt to force cinema hall owners to show Marathi films at prime time, shows that regionalism is on the rise again.
But, pronounced regionalism is not a sentiment that is limited to Maharashtra or Shiv Sena alone. It is present in almost all the states, in one form or the other. Bordering on regional chauvinism and even ultra-nationalism, extreme regionalism threatens the very idea of India. And political parties, all of them, should foresee the dangers inherent in such extreme sentiments.
Any language, and culture for that matter, is not a static item that needs government protection and encouragement. Any language, or culture, is popular because of its utility value. Governments cannot make a language or a culture or a culinary delicacy popular just because the government wants to do so. A language, or culture, or a food item, is popular because people adopt it as their own and also because it is useful and adds some value to life or fulfils a need.
One need not force Northern Indians to taste Idlis and Vadas and Dosas. They themselves have taken to Idlis and Dosas because these are convenient delicacies and provide value to the consumers. Similarly, you cannot force someone to listen to Lata Mangeshkar or watch cricketing skills of a Sachin Tendulkar. We all listen and watch these stars because they bring us unique value thanks to their special talent or quality.
Even in Jharkhand, there is a tendency to go overboard in over-emphasizing regional sentiments. And most of the times, politicians keep pouring ghee to the fire instead of dousing such extreme sentiments.
At a time when the world is getting smaller and smaller, it is not in anyone’s interest to focus on regionalism.
While the verbal duel between Shiv Sena and Shoba De looks engaging, it is not something that we want to see repeated again. It is time we kept regionalism and nationalism at different levels and learnt to take pure opinions of others in our stride. Shobha De’s comments may be criticized.
But, a vitriolic reaction to her opinion is completely unwarranted.
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