Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nationality is the only Identity: Part III

By Dileep Padgaonkar, 21 November 2009: Reproduced from Times of India

For three decades Bal Thackeray has ranted about one issue or the other with dollops of coarse humour to the delight of his flock and the wrath
of his detractors. Early in his political journey he realized that to achieve success he needed to exploit the insecurities of the urban, middle and lower middle class Maharashtrians. They had been left far behind by the enterprising Jains, Gujaratis, Sindhis, Punjabis, south Indians and north Indians. The feverish rhetoric of regional identity, he reckoned, would mobilise the Marathi manoos more effectively than the tall talk of progress, secularism and national pride.

And so it is that he directed his ire first at the 'Madrasis', then, high on the heady brew of Hindutva, at the Muslims and finally against the 'Bhaiyyas' of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Time and again the arms he deployed against these communities proved to be lethal: intimidation, threats, harassment and, with growing intensity, raw violence. These were the times when one statement at a Shivaji Park rally, one editorial in the party organ Samnaa, one order issued from Matoshri, his Bandra residence, could shut down Mumbai and send his opponents cowering for cover.

Thackeray had the means, and the gall, to "teach a lesson" to anyone who crossed his path: a defector, builder, film star, businessman, underworld don or journalist who failed to pay obeisance to the Supremo. In such instances, he showed a sovereign disregard for the rule of law and constitutional niceties. He placed himself on a pedestal higher than the highest court in the land.

That is why he could gloat over his 'achievements' that included the felling of the Babri masjid and the wave of violence he unleashed against Muslims in Mumbai. None of this would have been possible had his declared adversaries, the Congress and especially the NCP, not played footsie with him. But that Faustian deal was Thackeray's insurance against arrest and prosecution.

The idyll was too good to last. The deaths of a son and of his wife shattered him. He became more vulnerable when close associates began to abandon the ship. Age, too, had started to take its toll. But what crippled him was the crisis that gripped the family. In the bitter fight between his son, Uddhav, and his nephew, Raj, to take control of the party, Thackeray cast his lot with the son. But the son could simply not match his cousin's charisma, organisational abilities, determination or his rapacious ambition.

The result was obvious in the recent assembly polls when the MNS outsmarted the Shiv Sena reducing it to a sideshow. This should have encouraged Bal Thackeray to introspect. He did nothing of the sort. Instead, he chose to revile the Marathi manoos for stabbing him in the back. Later he sought to make some amends. His statement, he argued, was made not in a fit of anger but merely to express a benign patriarch's feelings of hurt over the conduct of his errant progeny. It triggered a fusillade of ridicule.

Hardly had the dust raised by the display of 'hurt feelings' begun to settle down than Thackeray fired another diatribe. This time the target was none other than a national icon: Sachin Tendulkar. The nation, and the world at large, applauded him as a cricketer beyond compare. But India discovered another, immensely attractive side of him when he declared that he placed his Indian identity above his Maharashtrian identity. He took great pride in both but his priorities were clear. Add to this his assertion that Mumbai belonged to all Indians.

Bal Thackeray, ever eager to seize the initiative from nephew Raj, gave Sachin an 'affectionate' earful. The ploy misfired. Sachin has emerged from this episode as an enlightened citizen of the republic, one who bears not the slightest taint of any sort of parochialism and, by that token, represents the face of a modern, self-confident and pluralistic India. In the process, he has exposed Bal Thackeray the troubadour of communal strife and regional chauvinism and the destroyer of Bombay's much cherished cosmopolitan character for what he has become today: a caricature of his former self with nothing but bile flowing in his veins. He cannot, or will not, read the writing on the wall. It says: your time is up.

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