When in doubt, Uddhav Thackeray always pulls out the trump card, Bal Thackeray, from his pack in the hope that it's one ace that will never fail with the Marathi manoos. Well, guess what. It seems to have boomeranged badly if public perception is any indication.
Ever since he lost the elections, Shiv Sena President Uddhav has struggled to first explain the defeat, then the rise of his cousin Raj Thackeray and, of course, what his party stands for. Not too long ago, when Raj floated the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), he had proclaimed that he had "no desire to follow his uncle's brand of politics". But defeat has replaced bravado with desperation.
The ensuing farce in the streets, in television studios and in the Twitterworld is no less dramatic than any Mumbai tamasha.
Shah Rukh Khan
"It was humiliating to see none of the Pakistani players being picked up. The issue could have been handled better."
"If Shah Rukh wants Pakistani players to play, he should go to Karachi and Islamabad to play with them."
In less than three months of losing the Maharashtra Assembly elections, the Thackerays have antagonised the younger generation they tried so hard to woo.
In the past one month, the Shiv Sena has launched verbal assaults on national icons like cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan and Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani and poured vitriol on Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi.
Worse, Uddhav has had to drag the original Shiv Sainik, Bal Thackeray, out of retirement to rescue the Shiv Sena from the mess.
Marooned without an idea or ideology, Uddhav has predictably sought to reincarnate the old party plank of Marathi manoos, which was used against south Indians in the 1960s. It is arguable whether the plank exists but even if it did, Uddhav and his cohorts lack the charisma and the political acumen of a Raj Thackeray to carry it off.
Raj's men have been hitting out at soft targets like taxiwallahs and students from north India, but have been careful not to touch iconic personalities like Ambani or Tendulkar.
In desperation and in the name of the old tiger, Uddhav's men are running riot in the party's editorial mouthpiece Saamna, taking potshots at high-profile people to ensure space in national dailies and TV channels.
Desperation has resulted in suicidal lunacy. Why else would a party target born-and-bred in Mumbai Marathi manoos Tendulkar? Not satisfied, the Sena attacked Ambani for something he said in faraway London.
"We are all Indians first. Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi belong to all Indians. That is the reality."
"Marathi people have as much right over Mumbai as Mukesh Ambani has over the Reliance empire. Don't meddle in the issue of Marathi manoos."
What has made the battle more interesting is some of the high-profile names from Bollywood and business coming out against petty politics. With the likes of Ambani and Tendulkar protesting against parochial mindsets, the choices aren't easy given that on the ground there isn't such a big issue.
Says Atul Kulkarni, Marathi actor of Rang De Basanti fame, "Politicians are trying to foster a feeling of insecurity in the minds of Marathis so that they can gather support. We have to be more mature as citizens and voters to see that today it's Marathi versus non-Marathi, tomorrow it will be Muslim versus Hindu."
The party think tank-if there is one-is obviously cut off from GenNext. Aspiration is the calling card of this generation and with half of India under the age of 25, political parties are queueing up at colleges and universities to woo the next poll voter, not damn their icons.
Uddhav and company have obviously not realised that the GenNext of 2010 is very different from the GenNext of the 1960s when Bal Thackeray started the party. This is best reflected in a chorus of demands from a cross section of the populace for the Government to act.
With Mumbai becoming a bone of contention, representatives from business and Bollywood say it's about time the Government decided on the fate of the city and its people.
"Mumbai is for all Indians... nobody can prevent Indians from moving to any part of the country in search of employment."
"This city belongs to Maharashtra and Marathi manoos. If RSS wants to talk of protecting Hindi, they should do it in the south first."
Actor Manoj Bajpai says, "I am ready to leave the city and go back to my state, but for that the Government has to amend the Constitution. If that is not the case it must ensure the safety of its citizens. This debate has been going on for too long now and needs to be resolved."
Social activist Alyque Padamsee wonders whether the Congress is frightened of the Shiv Sena and the MNS, which is perhaps why Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is fortifying himself behind the walls of Mantralaya, while the Shiv Sena and the MNS are running wild burning taxis and beating up north Indians.
He asks, "What has happened to law and order? Why is the prime minister not speaking out? There is a deafening silence from Delhi at a time when people are looking for answers."
With Assembly elections due in Bihar later this year, the rant against north Indians and Biharis by the parochial political class in Maharashtra has become a hot potato for both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress at the national level.
Not surprisingly, Chavan and the Congress did a U-turn on his policy on taxi licences for "locals only" within 24 hours.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Rahul Gandhi
"I am not interested what Bal Thackeray or Raj Thackeray has said. I am interested in one concept that India belongs to Indians and every part of India belongs to every Indian."
"Rahul Gandhi has insulted the bravery of martyrs like Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte, Vijay Salaskar, Tukaram Omble, all daring Marathi policemen, and NSG Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan."
"Mumbai may belong to all Indians but how can it belong to an Italian mummy?"
On January 31, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat-a Marathi manoos in every sense of the Sena definition-delivered a huge body blow to the Sena by declaring that "Mumbai is for all Indians? nobody can prevent Indians from moving to any part of the country in search of employment".
Always careful of its nationalist image, the RSS obviously decided to step in to stem the damage that its association with the Sena was wreaking on the BJP. Almost on cue, newly coronated BJP President Nitin Gadkari echoed the sentiments of the Sangh Parivar chief.
The babel of words has resulted in open sesame-everyone is taking an opportunity to score brownie points as politicians have elections to fight. Politicians and activists are competing in the studio-to-studio byte race. Raj declared he would be addressing a rally and the press on February 3.
Within hours Uddhav, who had sworn off the press and found reason to praise the newly released Rann to criticise the media, also held a press conference. After reacting to Rahul's comment on north Indian NSG commandos being flown in to Mumbai during 26/11, Uddhav and his team went into a huddle looking for a new strategy.
On February 3, he slammed the Congress Government by calling the chief minister anti-Marathi. He didn't even spare the RSS. Not to be left out, Chavan-under pressure from allies and the leadership in Delhi-met with the press.
In true Congress tradition, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief Manikrao Thakre declared that "Rahul Gandhi played a crucial role and took a stand on an issue of national importance. He meant that the whole nation comes together in a time of crisis and does not think if he's a Maharashtrian."
While Uddhav has been on a rant and rave mission, cousin Raj has come up with his own salvo. Addressing a rally on the same day, Raj rubbished Rahul's statement that "north Indians saved Mumbai during 26/11". He asked why Rahul and his predecessors did not bother to develop Uttar Pradesh though all of them contested elections from the state.
Raj says, "Rahul's grandmother Indiraji had appointed General Arunkumar Vaidya, a Maharashtrian, to lead Operation Bluestar to eliminate terrorists in Amritsar. We never said that Maharashtra saved Punjab."
This cub didn't even spare the industrialists and took pot shots on RSS functionary Ram Madhav and Ambani for their "Mumbai for all" remarks. He says, "They say Mumbai belongs to India. When did I say Mumbai belongs to Afghanistan or China? I am not against the country's integrity. The 26/11 attack was Delhi's intelligence failure and you are blaming Maharashtra for that."
"Mumbai belongs to India. I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that, but I am an Indian first."
"You were not even born when the Marathi manoos got Mumbai and 105 Marathi people sacrificed their lives for it."
The problem is one of objective. In their quest to outdo Raj, Uddhav and the Shiv Sena have not just antagonised national icons and alienated their own followers, they seem to be on the verge of losing their oldest ally, the BJP.
With the RSS asking their Sangh Parivar to protect north Indians in Maharashtra, the rift between the BJP and the Shiv Sena has come out in the open. It's a well-known fact that Gadkari and Uddhav have never been the best of friends and that the BJP at one time was actively considering tying up with MNS because of Uddhav's highhandedness.
With the BJP coming out in the open with its stand against regionalism, its alliance with the Sena seems to be skating on thin ice. By likening the Sena's view on Mumbai to Article 370 and granting special status to Jammu & Kashmir, Gadkari has made it clear to the BJP's alliance partner that it's not going to remain silent on the Sena's regional agenda.
The fussilade of poor publicity seems to have hit home at Matoshri. In a face saving move, Uddhav has softened his stance on demanding an "apology from Shah Rukh Khan".
"If he were to select IPL players he would do so only on the basis of their performance and not nationality."
"Aamir and Shah Rukh have been proved as '2 Idiots' as both are making statements supporting Pakistani cricketers."
Uddhav says, "We have no issues against Shah Rukh Khan's film (My Name Is Khan) and neither have we told any theatre owner not to screen his film. Our problem is with his stand on Pakistani players. It is up to him now whether to change his stand or stick to it.", But still Shiv Sanik's disrupted the screening of MNIK in every possible way.
For now, there seems to be a commercial break in the tamasha, but both the Centre and the state Government will have to act if they don't want the nation's commercial capital to be turned into the theatre of the absurd like in a banana republic. Both the Centre and the state will have to address the concerns arising out of Mumbai.
Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and national creative director of Ogilvy & Mather, puts it succinctly for the political class, "The Government must have a proper discussion, not in the media, and convey it to the public at large; else people will live with insecurity. There has to be a dialogue on what kind of a country we are and where do people stand in the city of Mumbai."
Recently The Shiv Sena has given up its opposition to Australian cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) starting next month. In a statement late on Tuesday, Sena leader Bal Thackeray said, “If nobody is ready to show patriotism, why should Shiv Sainiks raise their voice on this issue? Let the Australian players come and play here.”
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