Anwar Hussain, a Konkani fisherman, is a regular on the boat from Alibaug in Raigad district of Maharashtra to the Gateway of India in Mumbai. He goes back and forth every two-three days to eke out a meagre living. After selling his fresh catch door-to door in the posh high rises of Cuffe Parade and Colaba, he sells snacks on the streets of Mumbai until the next boat back home and he offers aerated drinks to the ferry’s other passengers on the hour-long journey from Mumbai to Alibaug. It is a hard life but somehow he manages to just about make both ends meet. His earnings depend on the smooth running of the boats and, of course, the camaraderie with and among his customers.
On March 1, the weekend after the Indian Air Force strikes in Pakistan, there is much silence on the boat back to Alibaug and Anwar seems rather a frightened man. He is worried that there will be a war with Pakistan and that will lead to strife with the minority community in India. Most of his customers in the Konkan, on the boat and in Mumbai, are Hindus and he wonders, in case of a war, if they will want to buy from a Muslim even if he was a local, born in Ratnagiri and has never been further from home than Mumbai. But what is eating at him more is the safety of himself and his family. He has memories of the post-Babri Masjid conflict. That was bad for business but it was much worse for communal harmony. Sabre-rattling Shiv Sainiks were on the rampage and both Konkan and Mumbai are considered the party’s fiefdoms. There was no escape from the angry crowds and life was hell at the time.
Anwar tentatively approaches a loquacious businessman who is another regular weekend traveller on the boat to ask what might happen next.
“Nothing,” says the entrepreneur who is well connected to the donors of the Bharatiya Janata Party and are great fans of Narendra Modi. According to him, the mood has been sober even among these enthusiasts many of who, like Anwar, also need peace to conduct steady businesses that, whether they openly admit it or not, have been down since Demonetisation and for other economic reasons.
This businessman is among them and now he minces no words when he says, “Only two categories will benefit from this war. One, the arms dealers and manufacturers, whether in India or abroad. And, of course, Narendra Modi and the BJP.”
He adds, “Par is jung mein gareeb ke bachche hee marenge. Kisan ka beta, mazdoor ka beta. Ameeron ke bete nahin bharti hote fauj mein. Na hee netaon ke bachche.”
That instantly brings the other travellers, by and large working class, milling round them. They nod in unison agreeing with the businessman who says among the general public the only ones who are blood thirsty are the salaried middle classes with three full meals in their stomachs and not having to worry about where the fourth meal will come from.
That assessment seems to be by and large true for reports are now filtering in from across the nation about large sections of people, including the armed forces, rebelling against the war mongering.
Like the brother of martyred CRPF jawan Pintu Singh, whose body arrived at Patna airport the same day as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar were holding a rally in the state capital. All ministers were present at the rally but none of them had the time to lay a wreath on the soldier’s coffin
Among these is Vijeta Mandavgane, the widow of Squadron Leader Ninad Mandavgane, who was among the six personnel killed when a helicopter went down in Kashmir over Badgam the same day as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistani army.
At the funeral of her husband in Nashik, Vijeta categorically asked TV channels and political leaders as well as people on the social media to stop their war mongering. “Come and join the Army and fight on the borders yourself to see what it is like for them and their families,” she said tearfully.
There have been other army wives who have posted similar messages on social media, indicating that while there is much euphoria among a certain section of the middle classes, the vast majority that is silent is either disapproving, dismal or disappointed. Like the brother of martyred CRPF jawan Pintu Singh, whose body arrived at Patna airport the same day as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar were holding a rally in the state capital. All ministers were present at the rally but none of them had the time to lay a wreath on the soldier’s coffin. Instead they were busy watching a dancer’s thumkas.
Said Mithilesh Kumar, Pintu’s brother, “Now we know how important really the soldier is to this government. They are busy saving their chairs. That is why they chose a rally over the martyrdom of a soldier who gave his life for the nation.”
Mithilesh and Vijeta, driven by their personal grief, were angry enough to voice their sentiments. There is a vast majority which thinks like them but is silent. For now.