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The single-minded Mr Patil

Most of the country and perhaps some parts of the world are keenly awaiting the results of India’s general elections, to be known on Friday. The hurly-burly’s done, the battles lost and won. Will history be made or will it be the same old thing again or are they both the same thing? How many times will we have to hear that Indian democracy has triumphed? Will opinion and exit polls fall by the wayside or come through like never before? Will the new PM be crowned or elected? Will some of us have to take refuge in Pakistan and will the rest be bundled off to Bangladesh?


Goal oriented: A few court decisions have held the home minister back from doing away with dance bars, but he shall not be moved. File pic

Can India’s TV anchors shout any louder or has every sound barrier been breached? Has the Ganga heard any calls or is the mighty river just running relentlessly and inevitably to the sea taking everyone on their last mortal journey?
There is thankfully one man who is unaffected by all this and who has, from the time he has come to power, been bothered by only one agenda. Let history be changed around him. Let governments fall and be made again. Let time wash away all the sandcastles and let pollsters make new ones for the new tide. Maharashtra’s home minister RR Patil has had only one goal: shutting down dance bars in Mumbai.

This is a remarkable feat. I do not know of anyone else who is so single-minded in their pursuit of an idea — not even the man who wants to be prime minister more than anyone else. Maharashtra and Mumbai have been through all sorts of problems ... what am I saying? Problems, what problems? Sift through all those election promises made and kept. And you will find a whole lot of lies and almost no consistency. But not this vow, this one’s a keeper.

In the midst of all this election hysteria, in case we had forgotten (actually, we had), he promised once again, just the other day. If his alliance comes back to power in Maharashtra he will ... No, not try and get even more industry than Gujarat claims to have. Or make sure that farmers in Vidarbha stop committing suicide. Or even look at agriculture as a whole — onions, mangoes, sugar, cotton. Or try and solve the irrigation problems, including all those scams. Or segregate infrastructure development from unbridled construction. Or make good on all those promises about better security after those ‘small incidents’ that erupted in Mumbai in November 2008. Or look at the state’s law and order and conviction figures. Or health, education and all that malarkey.

I mean, why make promises you can’t and won’t ever keep? Have one goal and one goal only. The dance bars it is, Mumbai’s biggest problem. If they are shut down finally, who knows what might happen to this great city? The stinky pall of moral decay that hangs around it may vanish forever. It may not become like Shanghai or London or New York (also full of moral decay as it happens). But it may be the New Jerusalem, scrubbed clean of all moral disrepute.

A few court decisions have held the home minister back from doing this already. But he shall not be moved. The women who work at these bars have begged and pleaded. But he shall not be moved. The businesspeople that run these bars have tried. But he shall not be moved. The general public lost interest ages ago. But he shall not be moved.

Saving Mumbai is something we all gave up on a long time ago and decided to stick to discussing its ‘spirit’. So there is much to be admired here. What, you may ask, is it precisely that dance bars do that is quite so reprehensible? I confess, I have no answer. At best, imagine a scene from a 1970s Hindi film with smugglers and colourful backlit bars and lots of Vat 69 bottles filled with tea. Plus, obviously, some overweight vampish creatures in hot pants sashaying about in front of lascivious moustachioed gangsters. Maybe that is what the home minister also imagines and the idea fills him with immense dread. Now that I think about it, it’s quite a disturbing memory. Also, a fine distraction from whatever happens on Friday.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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