The function in Mumbai to launch the book “Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove” by former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri went off without a hitch but amidst heavy security after activists of the Shiv Sena had threatened to disrupt it. The Sena stayed away from the function but they had made their point in the morning when they blackened the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairperson of the Observer Research Foundation, the organiser of the function.
Kulkarni had been asked to get out of his car by Sena workers and told he was a “traitor” for hosting a Pakistani politician on Indian soil. “I had decided to wear the colours of the Indian flag,” Kulkarni told the media. He was then doused in ink by the activists. Only last week the belligerent party had managed to get a concert by Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali cancelled though Devendra Fadnavis had assured of all protection, which was seen as a snub to the chief minister.
This time he did not want to take any chances and wanted to show his ally in government who was the boss. There was tight security at the venue, the Nehru Science Centre. The panelists at the book launch included Naseeruddin Shah, A G Noorani and journalist Dileep Padgaonkar. Kulkarni, speaking at the event, revealed that only on Sunday night he had visited Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to tell him about the event. That discussion seems to have been fruitless because the next morning the Sena’s workers blackened his face. This kind of action is an old Sena tactic. Sena spokespersons called it “a non-violent protest” and made it clear that they would continue to do the same if and when a Pakistani visitor came to India.
But while this act was severely criticised by citizens and on social media, many were left even more shocked at the reaction of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who said, “No anti-India propaganda will be tolerated through any such program, if found so, the organisers will be held responsible.” His comments were seen as equivocation and suggest he did not want to take on his alliance partner Shiv Sena. L K Advani, with whom Kulkarni worked for some years, condemned the incident and spoke of “rising intolerance”, the party has not come out against the Sena. The party came in for severe criticism on Twitter too.
“For all foreigners, diplomats or foreign dignitaries who are allowed on proper Visa in our country, it is the responsibility of our government to provide them security . Hence Mr.Kasuri and the program will be provided total security. But this doesn’t mean that we endorse all views expressed in the program,” Fadnavis said.
Historian Ramchandra Guha tweeted, “In this incident, @SudheenKulkarni comes across as brave, the Shiv Sainiks bigoted, and @Dev_Fadnavis as two-faced.” A BJP spokeperson said on television that “Mr Kulkarni was guilty of selective outrage.”
Fadnavis’s comments could be due to political compulsions as well as intra-BJP equations. Kulkarni is too closely associated with Advani, who is now away from the power centres of the BJP and certainly not in any position of influence in the party. Moreover, Fadnavis may not want to upset his partner in government beyond a point, especially since civic elections in towns around Mumbai and then eventually in the city are in the offing.