Farooq Guest at Maharashtra Chief Minister's Birthday Bash

2nd December 1997

MUMBAI: It might have been Manohar Joshi's birthday bash, but the day, or rather evening, clearly belonged to Farooq Abdullah.

The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir was not an unexpected guest: Joshi and Abdullah have been old friends ever since the latter stitched up a cut suffered by Mrs Anagha Joshi during an accident on one of their Kashmir tours years ago.

However, his brief, unscheduled, heartfelt address to the people electrified the gathering and won him thunderous applause - in fact, Dr Abdullah carried off the day by even bringing Bal Thackeray round to publicly acknowledging, "We are now friends, forever." For Dr Abdullah had not just stolen Joshi's limelight party, he had also effectively snatched Thackeray's thunder. But perhaps neither Joshi nor Thackeray minded.

For after all, Dr Abdullah's presence at the bash was a great boost to their efforts to give the Sena a "secular" image in its bid to build bridges with the minorities.

"I never thought that there would be a day in my life when I would speak from the Shiv Sena's platform," Dr Abdullah said. "But India is great. It belongs to all, whether Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian. And I am happy that I could come here all the way from Kashmir to Mumbai to greet Joshi on his birthday."

He then stunned the crowds by declaring solidarity with Lord Rama. "Ram belongs not to Hindus alone or to just India. He belongs to the whole world. Just in the manner that we Muslims say that rab (God) belongs to the whole world. So then he should also belong to Bal Thackeray."

Decrying the sowing of dissent between different communities by certain vested interests, Dr Abdullah, without naming Pakistan, said countries interested in dismembering India should know that "not even a single piece of Kashmir can be taken away from India.

"Even if one Indian is alive in this country, Kashmir will still belong to us," he said.

He, however, cautioned those indulging in futile arguments with Pakistan to come to the realisation that the latter will not give up its infiltration in Kashmir. "But there is no point in being afraid. He who fears, dies. Only he who has courage, lives to fight another day," the J&K Chief Minister said.

And then came his most heartfelt appeal : Do not treat Muslims in the country as aliens. "We are not Pakistani Muslims. Nor are we Muslims from China or the Arab world. We are Indian Muslims. And we will return below to the same soil on which we have taken birth," he said, called for the healing of old wounds in the interest of unity of the country.

While Thackeray turned down the offer of a pheta, the traditional Maratha headdress, Dr Abdullah readily offered his bald pate to be adorned with the saffron turban. "I accept this crown," he said. "But remember Kashmir is India's crown. And a crown is always worn on the head, never on the foot."

By comparison to Dr Abdullah's emotional appeal, Thackeray had little to say.

"If Dr Abdullah had taken a different position, I would have been against him. But now I accept his friendship," was all he could say. Even his usual bashing of Bangladeshi Muslims was missing from his speech. He, however, did say his bit about anti-India Pak cricketers : Dr Abdullah had earlier already taken an anti-Pakistani line.

While Thackeray was all praise for Joshi, thundering at some of his own Shiv Sainiks, Congressmen, both past and present, as well as other political parties, it was Joshi who touched a chord among the people as he thanked his good fortune in never having to face media criticism in his 33 months as Chief Minister.

"I am happy that personally I am not tainted. I do not care whether I remain the CM forever. But until I am in the chair, it will be my endeavour to see that my personal reputation remains unblemished," he said, simultaneously appealing to Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde to make public the accounts of his birthday bash so that there are no untoward allegations against him.

Joshi said he had received everything in life from the city of Mumbai : Education, money and fame."And all I look forward to now is that whatever praise I have earned does not go to my head; that my feet remain planted firmly on this earth," he added.

* Chief Minister Manohar Joshi has donated his eyes in a special gesture to Maharashtra on his 60th birthday.

At his weekly press conference this afternoon he was asked if he planned to give something special to the State on his shashthipoorti. "What can I give -- there are so many schemes already under way. However, I have decided my eyes will carry on after me. And I wished to say this not just to the Press but to the people on my home ground in Dadar," Joshi said.

Later Sena supremo Bal Thackeray defended the law and order situation in Maharashtra. He also came down heavily in defence of "encounters" to eliminate gangsters. "They are unnecessarily dragging us to court. But if we do not clean up the city now, these gangsters will soon be making life for the common man very difficult," he said.

Thackeray expressed annoyance with his political detractors, including the city's businessmen who had complained to Prime Minister IK Gujral that the business atmosphere in Mumbai was vitiated by mafia and gangland killings of businessmen.

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