Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Turf before city, Thackeray style

My favourite take on the Raj Thackeray controversy came from Cyrus Broacha in CNN IBN's "The week that wasn't". As part of the weather broadcast, Mr. Broacha says that Raj Thackeray has banned winter in Mumbai because he doesn't like anything that comes from the north. While the only way to take Raj Thackeray seriously is to joke about him, if only it were that easy. Yet, thankfully, people in Mumbai are seeing this controversy for what it is: a marginalised politician grasping at straws, a year ahead of elections.

Raj Thackeray's MNS was formed, in 2006, with much fanfare as an inclusive party. Remember this was the same Thackeray that invited Michael Jackson to perform in Mumbai, as part of the Shiv Udyog Sena (website apparently defunct) a scheme to provide employment to the poor, unemployed Marathi Manoos. Till date, no one knows whatever became of that scheme. Ironically, Mr. Thackeray's inclusive "Mee Mumbaikar" campaign, an inclusive effort, also died a quick death.

In the present day, one needs to put this into political perspective. Raj Thackeray's best shot at any meaningful position of power is via an alliance. But with which political party? The Congress is comfortable with the NCP. The Shiv Sena surely won't take him back. The BJP, with it's existing alliance with the Sena, can't tie up with him. Of the smaller parties, the BSP would prefer a stronger partner. Which leaves the SP, which Mr. Thackeray has now taken on, leaving him now completely isolated.

Mr. Thackeray is also increasingly uncomfortable with the Sena's preparations for next year's state assembly elections. Recall, that the Shiv Sena is on a comeback trail, winning the BMC elections last year and with smaller victories like the by-elections in Ramtek. Recall also that late last year, Uddhav Thackeray's stands on relief for debt-ridden farmers (last year he held up the ULCRA repeal over this issue). While the Sena lusts at going it alone on its home-ground, it is also painfully aware that's its partner the BJP is thinking on similar lines, as was obvious by the BJP's cold-shoulder to the Sena in its recent Modi rally in Mumbai. But that's another matter altogether.

So, without any platform, without any alliance, without any achievement, what does it's leader do? Go back to his roots. Only four years back, the Shiv Sena was at Dadar and Borivali stations beating up Biharis as they stepped out for the Railway exams. To that extent, what happened in these last few days isn't without precedent. But today Uddhav Thackeray is playing the same game in a different way. Sample his demands for housing quotas for Maharashtrians, or sample his anti-ULCRA rally earlier this year, an event in which many people were paid to participate.

Make no mistake, the tactics of both the cousins are rooted in the same Sena politics. Turf before city. The difference in the game is that Uddhav wants to be seen as protecting the Marathi manoos by "fighting for their rights", Raj wants to be seen as attacking those threatening the same Marathi manoos. I doubt he's won any supporters with this recent antic. And I think he knew that even before orchestrating the whole incident. Why then? I think he's behaving like any kid faced with a losing position in a game. The natural response to which is - if I can't win, I won't let you win. And that's what this is about.

The law and order situation is obviously deplorable. Ordinary, innocent people getting beaten up for no fault of theirs is criminal. Unfortunately, this is also Mumbai tradition. The Police will expectedly appear late at the incident. FIRs will be filed and quickly forgotten. All the political parties - the Congress, NCP, Sena and BJP - would condemn the incident, while gloating gleefully privately. Not a single one of them will want to go after Raj Thackeray, instead using familiar platitudes like "It will only incite more violence". Privately of course they're all gloating in glee as they now have one less opponent next year.

And yet again, once again it's the Mumbaikar, not the Bihari, not the Marathi, not the "outsider", but the Mumbaikar who bears the brunt of these needless political games.