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Tolerate Dissent - The Times of India

Editorial ()
30 December 1996

Title : Tolerate Dissent
Author : Editorial
Publication : The Times of India
Date : December 30, 1996

Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray is known for his candour on many
contentious issues but when it extends to questioning Gandhiji's famed
celibacy, there is a predictable outpouring of horror and shock. While
it was certainly most irreverent of Mr Thackeray to describe Gandhiji's
celibacy as a "fraud" in the course of defending Mumbai's deputy chief
minister Gopinath Munde's alleged liasion with a tamasha dancer, it must
be questioned whether the Indian tendency to treat our national icons as
beyond criticism is justified. The Mahatma's contribution to the
country's independence struggle and his efforts to uplift the
downtrodden are numerous and invaluable. Though Gandhiji is India's
tallest national leader, to imply that he is above criticism is absurd.
There is a hysterical outcry any time the slightest adverse comment is
aimed at any of our national leaders, all of whom are elevated to
sainthood once they move on to the great beyond. So ingrained has
sycophancy and servility become in our collective psyche that we balk at
honest criticism even in cases when the leader concerned was not known
for pristine conduct while alive. Lakhs of rupees are spent, therefore,
on various monuments to long forgotten heroes to whom ritual obeisance
is paid on death and birth anniversaries. Valuable real estate has been
usurped in prime locations ostensibly to honour the memory of late
leaders but in actual fact this is done in most cases for the prestige
of their relatives.

However, we wish Mr Thackeray would swallow a bit of his own medicine,
and accept criticism more gracefully than has been the case so far.
Also, he himself has not been above paying lip service to legendary
individuals to suit his own purposes. The manner in which the Shiv Sena
has gbne about renaming sites in Mumbai after departed heroes is a case
in point. However, noteworthy and welcome is Mr Thackeray's new-found
tolerance, especially when such a quality is not always in evidence in
the organisation which he heads. If Mr Thackeray and his band of
followers were a little more tolerant of human differences in the past,
Mumbai would have been spared several unpleasant occurrences, not to
mention comic ones like Mr Pramod Navalkar's many "study tours." Such
moderation would have given the Shiv Sena a much wider public appeal.
That said, it needs to be added that every citizen has the right to
indulge in plainspeak about our icons. Our intolerance towards even
mild criticism has led to a situation where all works on the lives of
such people end up as hagiographies. It is only when we have the
courage to acknowledge that certain practices and policies of our past
leaders have been disastrous can we correct them. After all, if all of
them were so perfect, why are we in such a mess today? The age of the
cult leader has disappeared in all the economically advanced countries.
What the man or woman at the top is meant to be is no longer just an
outstanding statesperson, but equally a good executive who can implement
sensible policies and deliver the goods at the end of the day. It is
time that, we also followed suit.

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