This writer usually takes up for Bangalore and its citizens. For their determination, grit and perseverance. A city which is now on the itinerary of just about every head of state. And of course anyone to do with information technology.
Yet, its the same city where thousands of youth, among others have taken to the streets following actor Raj Kumar's demise. Pictures of mob violence are streaming in. The contrast between the engineers working in glass towers on cutting edge technology projects and the mayhem on the streets couldn't be starker. At last count, four people including a policeman were dead. The policeman was killed by mob.
The 77-year-old Rajkumar gave up acting almost a decade ago. Its tough to believe that the youth pelting stones at policemen across the city today watched too many of his films, if any. None of the television images showed them to be grieving. Instead their faces showed the thrill one usually associates with the satisfaction of inflicting damage on the establishment. Many were performing for the cameras,leaping with joy.
Shut Down Or Else..
Major IT companies including Microsoft, Infosys and Wipro have shut down their offices. Not really out of choice, considering that the option would be to see their beautiful campuses wrecked or the glass facades shattered. That happened anyway. The government is leading with a two-day state holiday that began yesterday.
Rajkumar was a giant in Kannada cinema. His career spanned almost five decades. He was a receipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke and Padma Bhushan awards and the Karnataka Ratna, the state's highest civilian award. He also won 10 Filmfare awards and recorded his loyalty to the Kannada language by not acting in films made in other languages.
His stature does not explain the burning of buses, cars and tires though. Or the beating up and killing of policemen. Mobs went on a similar rampage six years ago when the actor was kidnapped by sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. There is nothing wrong with mourning. Except that it must be voluntary and not forced. To that extent, Bangalore's mobs have proved to be no different from Shiv Sena in Bombay or the communist party cadre in West Bengal.
Two points emerge. One is that the the city of Bangalore was not sufficiently prepared for the fury. As was evident by the small groups of policemen cornered by the mobs. Nor was it prepared for the sheer frustration that boils beneath. And explodes on ocassions like this. The (mostly) young men running about on the streets don't look like they work for BPO companies. Or IT firms. Many may not have jobs at all. And this is an outlet for venting their frustration. And getting away with it. Mob fury in India can achieve almost anything, without facing the consequences. Recent history has amply demonstrated this.
The second (related) point is to do with the country's image. Bangalore is India to most of the world. And rightly so. This story has already been splashed across world media. Few will note the death of Rajkumar. Most would remember that India's IT capital has been held hostage for two days. In a flat world era with processes being outsourced real time, this is not a healthy proposition. This is not a natural calamity.
Cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, among others, will have to be better prepared to deal with such contingencies in future. Because the knowledge industry depends on people moving, not machine parts. This cannot be an Infosys, TCS or a Wipro problem. State governments must work doubly hard to understand and contain their citizens.