Behind the Thackeray phenomenon - The New Indian Express

Behind the Thackeray phenomenon

Published: 20th November 2008 01:44 AM

Last Updated: 14th May 2012 05:01 PM

Two generations ago, his grand father Prabodhankar had veered round to Mumbai from present Madhya Pradesh with his three sons in search of livelihood.

In the Fifties, his father Keshav Sitaram took a plunge into the language movement and became a vocal leader of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti demanding a seperate Maharashtra state.

Two decades later, Bal Keshav Thackeray himself wielded pen often supplemented by brawn power against ‘outsiders’, in particular the south Indians whom he used to belittle as yandu goondus.

And finally, his mini-me Raj Thackeray has taken cue and started treading the same path.

On October 30, 1966 four months after the Shiv Sena took shape, the Thackeray phenomenon arrived. After a vitriolic speech at the first ever Sena rally at Mumbai’s Shivaji park, his sainiks ran amok looting and attacking shops and restaurants owned by south Indians.

It has been more than four decades of ‘Thackery raj’ in Maharashtra which has decided the course of state politics and fresh political equations. What Thackeray Jr has started doing through his new outfit Maharashtra Navanirman Sena is part II of the Thackeray legacy —— a long saga of Sena politics in the name of Marathi manoos.

When Balasaheb was editing a Marathi magazine Marmik in 1960, a hugemass movement for Samyukta Maharashtra —— Mumbai, Konkan, Western- Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada region but exclusive of Gujarat ——had engulfed the region. After a long struggle unilingual Maharashtra wasborn.

Mumbai, which comprised seven islands and was home to the Koli fisherfolkduring independence, had become capital of the Bombay Presidency thatincluded Maharashtra and Gujarat regions.

A promising trading port since then, there had been steady influx of migrants almost choking the city and altering its demographics. It had migrants that included Muslim Gujaratis fleeing Pakistan, south Indians even from Goa and Zoroastrian Parsis fleeing persecution by Muslims in Persia.

The Sena played the Marathi card and, pampered by the Congress, emerged as a force to defang the communist movement. It worked and many of the trade unions of the textile mills passed into the hands of the Sena. Congress leaders kept extending Balasaheb’s political patronage even at the cost of the party thanks to its unending infighting.

Sena, which had by then formed its own trade unions in textile mills at Congress behest, was able to break the famous 1982 textile strike —— incidentally most of the workers were Maharashtrians.

The Sena’s prolonged honeymoon with the Congress ended in 1982 but the party had already thrived on the ‘outsider’ issue and later anti-Dalit and Muslim planks at times triggering riots. The party even threatened an Assam-type agitation against outsiders and wanted 1972 as the cutoff year of domicile.

Now the same politics is being played out in Maharashtra. What the likes of Vasantdada Patil did to Balasaheb, Congress and NCP are doing to Thackeray Jr. And the way Raj is trying to explore the vacant political space is similar to the situation when Bal began his foray and captured the imagination of the ordinary struggling Maharashtrian. Bal’s clout stemmed largely from the illusion of his invincibility. The Sena politicsblended the Marathi speaking lower middle class and Mumbai’s teeming underclass.

It appealed to the basic human instincts of a frustrated youth ready to adopt the rough and ready methods. And to the devoted sainiks, Balasaheb till date remains the divine incarnate.

As Balasaheb’s understudy Raj consciously moulded himself by imitating his uncle’s movements, style of speech and even the look. When Balasaheb was jailed for the first time ever in 1969 for his role in the riots, Mumbai witnessed mayhem for about a week. The cops were forced to request Thackeray to issue an appeal from jail. Only then sanity prevailed.

The same way, all hell broke loose when Raj was sent to jail last month.

Raj’s outburst targeting north Indian bhaiyaas has struck a chord with the Marathi middle class. He has arrived at a time when the Marathi youth is frustrated and is not able to connect to any political ideology of the mainstream parties. After a bitter power struggle with nephew Uddhav Raj formed his Maharashtra Navanirman Sena and many thought a new Raj phenomenon was emerging. Initially Raj’s style of politics was refreshing. He used to talk about farmers’ rights, general unemployment, Dalits, and even chided Maharashtrians to learn from the more prosperous Gujaratis and south Indians. Raj went a step further and questioned the Sena’s obsession for renaming everything after Chhatrapati Shivaji.

What then brought the change of mind that he suddenly found the bhaiyaas as enemy No 1? Critics feel it is a clever effort to hijack the Thackeray legacy for political survival. It was Raj who floated the Shiv Udyog Sena to create jobs and brought Michael Jackson to Mumbai to raise money.

The influx of migrants has meanwhile strained Mumbai further despite its flyovers and freeways. Manmohan Singh’s ‘dream Shanghai’ as a matter of fact, cannot supply power and water to 40 per cent of its population.

Despite huge job openings, lakhs of youth in Mumbai remain unemployed and nurture a grudge against the system that finds a channel through outfits like the MNS.

And the Sena proves his point when two lakh Biharis come to Mumbai to take the test for 2000 railway jobs of gangmen and khalassis etc. Precisely for this, the Marathi manoos who generally does not believe in violence and conscious of his self-respect hardly protests Raj’s outburst or the MNS hoodlums attacking taxi drivers. In a way the MNS has already proved that it is a microcosm of the Shiv Sena and would keep the outsider issue alive. As the hate campaign dangerously spreads to other states, the Thackerays have certainly put the Indian State on test.

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