…people barely noticed how Raj reacted on what happened in the Assembly. He said it was not their intent to malign the image of the House and they would apologise to the House for their action but not to Azmi. His statement is very much akin to post-1998 BJP’s style to react to certain situations so as neither to disturb traditional support base nor to make an unpleasant image…
All my contemporaries and I, the proud Indian youth of today, were not born in an era when linguistic issues caused violence, that time was already past. Yes, we witnessed some communal riots, worst of them, and know better about communalism. So when all this Marathi vs Hindi controversy renewed in Maharashtra with entry of a parochial leader like Raj Thackeray in state’s politics, I was immune to see the whole thing through a prism of olden times, Ditto to regionalism, the preferred political weaponry of MNS chief. Viewed with these eyes, the current political events in the state might point to a new aspect. What Thackeray lately appears to be doing with Marathi or ‘son of the soil’ concept is putting it in a different colour, something not properly noticed hitherto. Right, my view of Thackeray and his vandalistic MNS has become slightly removed from the stereotype opinion of it, of late. Well, before proceeding, let me first make my biases clear – I’m against any kind of provincialism, parochialism, patriarchy, and chauvinism.
Raj commended Amitabh for baling out Marathi flick ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’, country’s Oscar entry for the year. Why did he, the Maratha parochial who could have better stayed silent in the face of his long standing opposition to North Indians and the actor, choose to admire the actor?
Many of us, seeing MNS MLA Ram Kadam slapping SP legislature Abu Asim Azmi in full public view, instantly made our trade brand hullabaloo about the parochial political outfit but didn’t notice some real events. With Balasaheb’s life time labour drawing a blank to herald an independent Sena rule in Maharashtra, Raj should have been very clear about his own fate the day he revolted and floated MNS. After MNS gained huge vote percentage in cosmopolitan Mumbai and Thane, he had his lesson read out to him louder and clearer: an average Maharashtrian opposed to Sena or MNS do believe in the cause they are putting a fight for but utterly dislikes them for their mannerism. Though my assessment of him may be too early in time, whatever happened around Thackeray or MNS in the past one month merits a differential interpretation for being exceptionally notable, media-savvy and political.
Bombshelling his critics out of blue a moon or two ago, Thackeray commended Hindi cine actor Amitabh Bachchan – whom he had fervently denounced on earlier occasions over Maharashtrians vs North Indians, Marahti vs Hindi issues – for baling out and deciding to promote Marathi flick ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’, country’s Oscar entry for the year. Without putting our mind to pains we’re sure Bachchan’s purpose was purely artistic, not political to appease Thackeray, MNS, or Marathi Manoos. But why did Raj, the Marathi parochial who could have better stayed silent in the face of his long standing opposition to North Indians and the actor, and the matter could have gone unnoticed, non-reported, choose to admire the actor’s attempt and tried to receive media attention?
He had a reason, as is apparent – reasserting his political appeal in noticeably new-fangled way, that is to say, admitting outsiders’ contribution and giving a message that for him, Marathi/Maraharashtrian matter is above Marathi vs Hindi or Maharashtrians vs North Indians one (politically, that is). This admission is no trivial change in his stand. Though North Indians are not expected to be impressed by this, it can win him those Maharashtrians so far opposed to him. Next in line, the Mumbai vs Bombay controversy of Karan Jauhar’s ‘Wake up Sid’, which projected young Balasaheb image of Raj, could have been a riveting, insightful happening to observe had Jauhar not volunteered to bow down fearing probable obstruction to screening of the movie. I believe Thackeray’s reaction to Azmi’s slapping in the Assembly could offer an insight into the matter.
What was Abu Azmi slapping case all about? MNS had asked him to take oath in Marathi and when he, letting them down, exercised his constitutional right to opt for Hindi instead, MNS lawmakers felt offended, they’ve even got Protem Speaker to initiate a probe against his threatening gesture despite having already slapped him. What media and we the people did to the case – made it clear Marathi vs Hindi issue that it really wasn’t. Preoccupied with our presumption, people barely noticed, and if they did, preferred not to take seriously, how Raj reacted on whatever happened in the Assembly. He, no follower of Constitution though, said it was not their intention to malign the image of the House and they would apologise to the House for their action but not to Azmi.
His statement is very much akin to post-1998 BJP’s style to react to certain situations so that traditional support base is not disturbed and if possible upleasant image is not made either. Thackeray’s reaction both appealed to his traditional voters and sought to show respect to the House, no matter for sheer purpose of ostentation. He did so, for he knew an average Maharashtrian opposed to him has respect for the House, Constitution, Law etc while being loyal to their language, culture, traditions and so on at the same time. No wonder, MNS didn’t take language issue beyond a manageble point.
In Maharashtra politically monopolized by Sena and MNS exists world’s second largest film industry, the Hindi film industry; there’re some big offices of non-Marathi newspapers and magazines in Bombay, both having impressive Maharashtrian fans. A politically ambitious party like MNS is not expected to ignore that their presence in Marathi heartland has Maharashtrians’ clear support. In future, it won’t simply take the language issue beyond certain point of political mileage, to a level difficult to manage.
Slapping of Azmi was not entirely language dispute, it was a lunatic reaction of letting down some parochial people and then showing threatening gesture (why would they ask you for something if they’re used to bamboozle people into submission in the first place?). From Thackeray’s reaction to Azmi’s case, it seems reasonable to predict a different reaction from Raj and MNS if Jauhar hadn’t sorted things out by talks. MNS would have indulged in arson, vandalism outside Cinema halls forcing Jauhar to accept their demands and later Raj would have expressed regrets over inconvenience to the viewers for the action but not to Jauhar.
If Karan Jauhar hadn’t sorted things out by talks, MNS would have indulged in arson, vandalism outside Cinema halls forcing Jauhar to accept their demands and later Raj would have expressed regrets over inconvenience to the viewers for the action but not to Jauhar.
Thackeray, to my mind, in all likelihood, is making a background for beginning his new version of realpolitik: allegiance to Marathi, Maharashtra, its culture and all while gradually opening to respect Constitutional procedures, lauding outsiders’ contribution, opening to channels like talks etc. As Sena fades away, Raj will make himself softer and his MNS inclusive, what BJP did in mid nineties, to gain more votes and strong political allies.
Nonetheless, as I mentioned in the beginning that I’m against provincialism and parochialism, I don’t approve of Thackeray even if he might be searching a ground to take recourse to slow softening, he merits criticism, no doubt, for continuing to keep Maharashtra and Marathi over everything else. But see, aren’t we being toffee-nosed, stubborn, parochial like Thackeray when we criticize him while carrying on to willingly do what is a provocation, a political chance coming handy to him.
Form a vintage point, Jauhar can be termed timid for bowing down before Raj but from another he did people a great service by not letting Raj having yet another thing for politicisation. Azmi could have done the same, but he didn’t. While taking oath in Hindi, besides using his Constitutional rights, he also conceded MNS an excellent opportunity to indulge in provincialism. National politicians in Delhi who better remain silent on anything pertaining to Thackeray, and regional in UP and Bihar, who don’t skip a chance to take on Raj when North Indians – moving to Maharashtra for employment purely because of failure of state’s politicians to create enough opportunities for them in the state – are bashed up in Bombay, equally share Raj’s guilt of provincialism and parochialism.
For dealing with Raj, do what he is beginning to do. He plans to be parochially inclusive like BJP in future; you get more responsive to Marathi expectations at present. Or stop criticizing him, for pragmatic Jauhar’s criticism of him will hold water, Azmi’s won’t.