Sunday, October 26, 2008
Sharmila and Raj Thackeray’s usual Diwali hamper is exquisitely crafted boxes with a selection of choice chocolates. When a friend asked why not Marathi mithai for the occasion, Raj shrugged, non-committal. He does not particularly like being challenged. This Diwali, Raj finds himself bang in the middle of a sort of confrontation he hadn’t planned on. The Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra, which he had assumed was on his side, suddenly turned the tables on him. The government’s Diwali gift: 54 cases in 30 police stations across the state. In addition, Raj faces charges of murder in two police stations in Bihar. This sudden, seemingly tough crackdown is the only part that didn’t go according to the script Raj wrote out for himself when he was a young boy who spent more time with his uncle Bal Thackeray than with his father Shrikant. If there is a sense of deja vu in the Raj Thackeray story, it is completely intentional on his part. In manner and thought, in cartooning and satirical one-liners, in dress and gait, in belligerence and false bravado, Raj has so completely moulded himself in the image of Thackeray, and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena on the Shiv Sena, that his relentless, name-calling, issue-obfuscating campaign against Uttar Bharatiyas—those from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh—invoked direct memories of the one his uncle had unleashed in the late ’60s.
Back then, as Bal Thackeray’s party was similarly targeting ‘Madrasis’, successive Congress governments turned a blind eye. The Sena flourished, thanks to then chief minister V.P. Naik’s refusal to act tough since it went well with the Congress party’s gameplan to use the Sena to counter the Left trade unions and the CPI(M). South Indians were stealing away jobs from Maharashtrians, thundered Thackeray Sr. North Indians are stealing away jobs, says Raj now. Touch me and Bombay will burn, threatened the older Thackeray. Arrest me and Mumbai will burn, declared his nephew last week. The idea of democracy and the rule of law did not hold appeal for the Sena’s tiger. Government does not understand the language of non-violence, said Raj recently.
What is Raj Thackeray’s agenda?
It’s called chasing power. But a naked, hurried run hardly appeals to voters. Hence the need for an issue. Mumbai, teeming with migrants, stark disparities in growth and wealth, and a creaking infrastructure, presents many issues to rally people around. Migration is a highly emotive one, closely tied as it is to the idea of one’s identity. Raj has mischievously mixed up the two: equated all migration with lower-middle-class north Indians, their "mini Bihars" and "Bhaiyya bastis".
Raj’s modus operandi is best exemplified by his audacious declaration that "the Railway Recruitment ads were not printed in Marathi newspapers". When it was proved that local editions of papers had, indeed, carried pointer ads in February itself and the main ad had appeared in Employment Times, a national publication, he quickly changed tack to say that had the ads been prominent, Maharashtrians would have applied.
On the eve of his October 21 arrest, Raj asked: "Why does Chhat Puja become a show of strength for Biharis here, why don’t we see Navratri turning into a show of strength for Narendra Modi? Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha don’t come here.