The Thackeray family's
Thackeray family's parochial agenda has a long history. It
all began with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's father, Keshav
Sitaram, who was a member of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti,
the organisation which spearheaded the agitation for a separate
Maharashtra in the 1950s.
Keshav Sitaram's chief claim to fame was his penchant for
"violence in politics", as an entry in Google says.
The recourse to violence during the agitation led to the creation
of the two separate states of Maharashtra and Gujarat on May
1, 1960, ending the proud concept of the 'mahadwibhashi rajya'
or the great bilingual state, which the Bombay presidency
feature of the agitation was the anger expressed against Gujaratis
living in the united province presumably because their entrepreneurial
skills enabled them to dominate its commercial life.
lies the root of the parochialism which has marked the politics
of Keshav Sitaram's descendants. While Bal Thackeray built
his political career by, first, targeting the south Indians
and then the Muslims, his estranged nephew, Raj, is focussing
his energies on the north Indians with occasional diatribes
against the Gujaratis, who have evidently not been forgotten
or forgiven by Marathi chauvinists.
all these cases, envy of the success of outsiders has been
a motivating factor for the disgruntled "sons of the
soil" and their self-appointed champions. Just as the
Gujaratis were enterprising traders and businessmen, the south
Indians were known for their profitable idli-dosa joints,
serving the typical items of fast food which are popular all
over the country.
north Indians are being attacked now, it is because of their
ubiquity as taxi drivers and vegetable vendors. Only Muslims
were targeted for being Muslims as a result of the communal
propaganda against them carried out by the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena, especially in the period when
the Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindu fanatics.
main reason, however, why such blatantly divisive politics
have thrived in Maharashtra is the political space left vacant
by the Congress' decline and the failure of the Left and other
more broad-minded parties to grow, such as the Socialist Party,
which included widely respected leaders like Madhu Dandavate
and Mrinal Gore, or the Peasants and Workers Party or the
Republican parties, which squandered B.R. Ambedkar's legacy.
that is not the only reason. An even more relevant explanation
for the thriving of the Sainiks with their open preference
for street fighting and intimidation of opponents is the encouragement
given to Bal Thackeray in the early years of his career by
the Congress. The latter's objective then was to use the Shiv
Sena's muscle power to browbeat the Communist trade unions.
similarity of such cynical tactics with the tacit support
given to Bhindranwale in Punjab by Sanjay Gandhi and Zail
Singh to undermine the influence of the Akalis is obvious.
same parallel can also be detected in the Vilasrao Deshmukh
government's pussyfooting in the matter of cracking down on
Raj Thackeray and his supporters in the Maharashtra Navnirman
Sena (MNS), who have followed up their attacks on north Indians
by acts of arson and random violence after their leader's
If the government had shown half the energy it had shown
earlier in rounding up bar dancers in Mumbai and concentrated
on checking the MNS' rowdyism instead, then the city would
not have been on tenterhooks for so long.
calculations of the Congress leaders of Maharashtra apparently
are that by allowing the MNS to grow, the Shiv Sena's base
can be eroded. There may be some truth in the idea, self-serving
though it may be, but the danger is that this cynical ploy
may backfire, as it did in Bal Thackeray's case in the 1960s,
and let Raj Thackeray become a new Frankenstein.
additional problem for the Congress and its partner, the Nationalist
Congress Party (NCP), is that their pusillanimity vis-a-vis
the MNS may induce the voters to turn away from them. However,
the Congress and the NCP have probably realised that the electorate
has no one worthwhile to turn to since the BJP, which is primarily
a north Indian party, is nervous about the impact of the MNS'
agitation on its own supporters.
a longstanding ally of the Shiv Sena, which is no less xenophobic
than the MNS, the BJP will be hard put to present its case,
especially in the absence of Pramod Mahajan, their articulate
leader in the state who was killed by his brother in 2006.
Maharashtra situation, therefore, has become a tangled web
as the state relives the parochialism of its past to the detriment
of its present and future. Mumbai, the much acclaimed financial
capital of the country and the home of Bollywood, is now virtually
at the mercy of hoodlums, who can pounce on anyone who cannot
speak in Marathi.
city is being strangled by groups that have always had chips
on their shoulders against south Indians, north Indians, Gujaratis,
Muslims et al who have gravitated to Mumbai because of the
many opportunities that a metropolis of its size provides.
result of their intolerance is that Marathis may come to be
seen as 'kupmanduks' or frogs-in-the-well, forever on the
warpath against outsiders. Just as Narendra Modi makes every
Gujarati seem communal-minded, similarly the Thackerays are
likely to distort the image of Maharashtrians in the eyes
of the rest of India.
Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)