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|Volume 10 |Issue 45 | December 01, 2011 ||
Hatred's many Hues
Shah Husain Imam
My earliest memory of an attempted public humiliation of a sub-continental leader dates back to around the mid-fifties when Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, known as Frontier Gandhi, was paying a visit to Barisal. There he was with his towering height striding on to the city centre along with some of his hosts as a rag-tag collection of Muslim League supporters hurled brickbats, even perhaps a few rotten eggs at him. They were just playing out an organised plot to make the Khan feel unwelcome.
The Frontier Gandhi, father of Wali Khan, then a national leader of Pakistan, just rolled off the scraps of dirt; completely unruffled and serene, he strode with such a stoic composure that it remains one of my most treasured moments of valour personified by a sub-continental icon in politics.
More than a decade and a half later, military dictator-turned-president Ayub Khan was there to address a public meeting at Paltan Maidan with governor Monaem Khan at his side. Some distance away, people listening to the salvoes fired at the dictator by Matia Chowdhury, a firebrand student leader, would rise to their feet and toss sandals and shoes on to the dais as Ayub Khan had barely taken the microphone desperately yelling 'Bhaio aur Bahino'. Whenever Monaem Khan tried to interject frantically appealing for calm, Ayub Khan shouted him down -- Tum chup raho. In the massive chaos that engulfed the area, Ayub no longer able to stand the heat of public commotion had to disappear climbing down the podium in hot haste and crouching on the seat of his car, the Pak cabal sped away.
Those were tales from history, the first one a stage-managed buffoonery, the other a snapshot view of a popular political movement building into a crescendo.
Booing, and cat calling of the past are transforming into shoeing, slapping, and in an exceptional case, coming to blows, all these in an attempt to settle scores. The basic motivation is to dramatise a grievance in public glare. Stealing the limelight is not quite a part of the instinct, because the player is sticking out his neck there.
Here is the contemporary fiesta of hurling shoes at a former US president, Junior Bush delivering knockout punch at Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister and landing a slap on Sharad Pawar, a heavyweight Indian minister (earlier a shoe missed Indian home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram) or attempting an assault on a discredited telecom minister Sukh Ram.
The reasons behind the ill-tempered bravados may vary but the net result for the tormented is uniformly concerning, and hopefully, enlightening. The message in all cases is loud and clear.
Speaking of Bush he has had to cancel trips to Canada and Switzerland as fear of arrest haunted him after the international criminal court's finding him in the wrong for sanctioning water boarding torture method against prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
In the shoe-throwing incident, Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi served a jail term but he remains popular with his people and perhaps a potential pioneer for this bitter form of expressing disgust and angst.
In India Harvinder Singh who slapped Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is a transporter by profession. Agitated over rising prices and corruption, he did it claiming that he drew inspiration from Anna Hazare. Many in the Indian establishment think that Anna Hazare's movement may have stirred indiscipline in the public mind, so the manifestly unconventional acts of violence in a society that has yet to come to terms with itself.
Away in Britain, John Prescott, now peer in the House of Lords, former deputy prime minister in Tony Blair's cabinet couldn't take it lying when an angry Brit hurled an egg to scramble on his body. Lord Prescott, the burly former trade union leader who would be doing the ramming job for the Labour against anybody looking for trouble instantly punched a blow at the face of the attacker over-powering him to more than even the score!
These expressions of pent-up emotions maybe exacting sweet revenge on the part of those who demonstrate it but as far as the objects of hatred go, they cannot even have a decent claim to victim-hood or a martyr complex. For, in public perception if law has not caught up with them as yet some crude form of justice may.
At one time, persons with seriously devious reputation would have been ostracised in society, but no more. Without being judgmental or personal about anybody, that's why perhaps these iconoclastic expressions of disgust are surfacing.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
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