Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s announcement that his government will give “full protection to [Ghulam] Ali’s concert in Mumbai” is enormously welcome. The Shiv Sena’s warning against the concert has only confirmed the party’s image as a bully. The Sena, an NDA constituent, is free to express an independent view from the government on Indo-Pak relations, even if a political party with 18 Lok Sabha MPs and a cabinet minister at the Centre ought to know better than to issue physical threats when it wishes to proclaim its difference.
But now, Fadnavis must stand by his word and ensure that Ghulam Ali performs in Mumbai. His music transcends national colours and explores the borderless world of art. And as a great metropolis, home to a large population with an appreciation of music, Mumbai should not be deprived of a world-class performer. It may be too much to expect the private organisation that had booked the Shanmukhananda Hall to hold the concert in memory of the late ghazal singer Jagjit Singh to risk the Sena’s ire and organise the event. Instead, the Fadnavis government must step in and offer to host Ghulam Ali. The involvement of the government will reassure the maestro and his fans, and hopefully compel potential miscreants to stay home. If Fadnavis reaches out to Ghulam Ali, he will only be taking a cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, after all, invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to witness his swearing-in ceremony.
A proactive step from the CM is necessary to convince sceptics that the state government is earnest about its commitment to freedom of speech and expression. Its past ambivalence when the administration intruded into the private spaces and habits of citizens, including their diet and social lives, is partly responsible for emboldening the likes of the Sena to dictate the terms of artistic engagement. The political mainstream and governments in the past were reluctant to censure the Sena’s loutish behaviour when its cadres dug up cricket pitches, threatened scholars and assaulted public intellectuals. The political gesture of the AAP government to invite Ghulam Ali to perform in Delhi is a departure from the old paradigm of letting the bully set the terms. More governments should follow suit and shame the Sena for its bigotry. Competition among states for a liberal cause is most welcome.