Rhetoric was thick as leaders from the BJP and the Shiv Sena paid a visit to the Bandra fair, allegedly out of respect for "peace-loving" Catholics
In politics, symbolism is prime, and our netas know that only too well. In an overture to the Christian community, BJP veteran leader LK Advani, wittingly or otherwise, made a show of his presence at the ongoing Bandra fair in the city, and set aside the Hindutva ethic to say how Christians are a peace loving community.
The Catholics seem to have suddenly become dear to the saffron brigade, with leaders from the Shiv Sena throwing their weight behind the minority community as well.
Grandstanding: Leaders grab the chance to woo the electorate at Bandra
fair, minority community and all. Senior BJP leader LK Advani paid a visit
to Mount Mary's Basilica for the first time.
While Advani's reasons for a stopover at the fair were studied, his words restrained, Sena's Shrikant Sarmalkar seemed gushing with consideration for a community that was being "deprived of its right to livelihood", referring to civic action against stalls at the fair. He leveraged the ongoing debate about the stalls to express his consternation at the treatment meted out to "peace-loving" Catholics.
Advani visited Mount Mary's Basilica with other party members on Monday, a first for him. He harked back to his association with the religious group, which dates back to his school days in Karachi, where he studied in St Patrick School. He said he was happy to pay his respects to Mother Mary.
Incidentally, BJP leaders have been talking of peace and harmony quite noticeably. After Gujarat CM Narendra Modi made a plea for communal unity and harmony in an open letter after a Supreme Court verdict directed a trial court to look into allegations of his involvement in the 2002 riots.
Here to help
On the other hand, Sarmalkar made statements in support of the 250-odd stall owners at the fair, whose booths were torn down on Sunday afternoon. The BMC has allowed 190 stalls to operate on Mount Mary Road and another 90 on Rebello grounds, while the rest, despite permissions, were disallowed.
Speaking of his sudden interest in the Bandra fair controversy, Sarmalkar said, "I have been associated with the Bandra fair for a long time. As a child, I used to attend it and continued to do so every year. But this year, when I heard about the infringement of rights faced by Catholics here, I decided to step in and help them. Catholics are a peace-loving people and do not do any harm to anyone. I don't know why they are being treated like this."
Evidently, his help is welcome. John Fernandes, member of Christian Residents Organisation for Social Service (CROSS), said, "Sarmalkar has been very supportive of our fight for the rights of stall owners who are being deprived of their livelihood by not being allowed to put up their stalls. As a group, we along with the stall owners, have been running from pillar to post, and Sarmalkar is using his contacts to help us."
For the past two years, the stalls in and around Bandra fair have had controversy surrounding them, but neither the BJP nor the Shiv Sena, or any other political party for that matter, bothered to address the issue. But the BMC elections are around the corner, and who doesn't know that.
The Bandra fair controversy coupled with security issues has the police under duress. Cops cite security reasons for barring stall owners from setting shop.
A senior police officer said, "We have our orders from the top. The BMC has asked us not to allow stalls in certain locations; they are afraid of terror attacks. After July's terror attacks, security has been beefed up."
Meanwhile, the stall owners claim to have all the documents and receipts saying that they are allowed to sell their commodities, but the BMC and police are forbidding them, citing security as a reason.
Joel D'Souza, a stall owner said, "We are not terrorists. We have been selling religious items here for generations. We have lost out on the large profits we could have made, what with this running about for permissions."
Anushka Pandit, another stall owner, added, "The profits we make during Bandra Fair sustain us throughout the year. This year, we have only suffered losses, being unable to sell anything so far with the police stopping us.
Poor people like us have taken loans to buy candles and other saleable items. But we will not be able to pay the money back."