Raj Thackeray’s huge public rally in Kolhapur on Tuesday evening are notable for several reasons. One, he refused to have any truck with his cousin, Uddhav; two, he would go forward alone; three, his plank would be anti-migrant to bolster the pro-local sentiments; and four, his opposition to a memorial to Shivaji, the Maratha king, on an islet in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai.
The first three are his political, even filial choices. The last one could well be a mistake, opening himself to flak, forcing him, possibly, to engage in long-winded explanations. More on this as we go along.
Given the bad blood between the two cousins, Raj and Uddhav Thackeray, there was no chance in hell that they would have come together, either by merging their parties or working out an alliance for next year’s Maharashtra Assembly elections. The tensions, palpable even during Bal Thackeray’s funeral, could not be wished away.
No wonder Raj Thackeray, spurned his cousins extended hand of peace which came via an interview in Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, Dainik Saamana, to get together in the interests of the Marathi manoos. At a huge rally, right in the midst of the established Congress and NCP fiefdoms, he questioned the premise that their split would divide Marathi votes. If multiplicity of other parties doesn’t, why would a fight between Sena and MNS split them?
That, however, is not how other political parties, especially the Sena, its long-time ally Bharatiya Janata Party, and their new-found partner, Republican Party of India (Athavale) look at it. With the demise of the senior Thackeray, Uddhav seems to find himself and his party somewhat weakened. In the absence of a father figure in the background, a tie-up with Raj would bolster his cause.
The 2014 polls would be Uddhav’s first – and true- test and Raj Thackeray, who also likes to serve his revenge cold, would like him to fail it.
Now he has discomfited the Sena and the BJP and given some room to the Congress and NCP to smile. Also, he makes the next round of Maharashtra Assembly elections quite interesting.
The size of the rally in Kolhapur on Tuesday evening by itself was remarkable for it was in the hard-to-breach domain of the Congress-NCP feudal lords. It seems to have bolstered his resolve to walk alone; at one point he said, “With you (the audience), I don’t need others”, adding that he would “capture Maharashtra” on his own strength. When he had started out in 2006, he had not begged others to join him.
That taunt at Uddhav, aside, it has to be understood that the ‘capture’ visualised in 2014 has two intentions. One is to destabilise the Sena to an extent that his party emerges stronger. The second is to gain access to power by becoming the holder of the keys to a tangled outcome at the polls. Both would lead to attrition, in the long term, from the Sena to add to his crew’s strength. Even if only a spoiler, he can be in the sellers’ market, in a fractured verdict which is a certainty.
Being a better communicator than his cousin and even his late uncle, he made a telling point: in the next elections, the MLA and the MP would perhaps be the ordinary man from among the throng which had come to hear him. It would no more be the representatives of the sansthaniks which can be either interpreted as feudal lords who have the state’s politics in their stranglehold, or in the context of the Maratha history, warlords.
He asked the people to escape from their thrall. Break away from those who stoke emotive issues during elections, distribute money to buy votes and then leave the voters in the wilderness. No promised development, not even basic services like electricity, water and roads, comes their way. He tapped into Narendra Modi’s development model; “I have been there and seen it all”. He tapped into the angst against established politicians.
This apart, Raj Thackeray’s speech, often interrupted by long pauses even as unexplained noise moved like waves among the throng, laid out an ideological roadmap which is essentially anti-migrant. The government may dislike what he says about them and files cases against him, but he “will go on speaking about it”.
The points made were simple: every day, 56 migrant-laden trains come from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand to promote a “conspiracy” in which they arrive, study and write their exams in Hindi or Urdu, replace the Marathi manoos in jobs, and then get elected to the civic bodies, legislature and even parliament. He painted the scene as one where if the locals did not wake up, they would be swamped.
The recent Jaipur resolutions of the Congress where the emphasis was on the right to residence anywhere and the special efforts to help the migrants, came in handy. This, plus the reference to migrating “Muslims who know only Urdu” and could write examinations in that language posits him on the anti-minority platform as well, but with only a toe placed there.
He may, however, have made a huge mistake for which he may get earfuls, and even pay the price, if the other political parties are both alert and deft in deliberate misreading the spoken and recorded words.
Raj Thackeray said at the rally that he did not much believe in memorials. He mocked at the idea of a horse-borne Chhatrapati Shivaji on a small islet off the Marine Drive, the stature being a tad taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Instead of taking up that daunting project – where can you find a sculptor who could execute the work, he asked – by spending enormous sums, the money would be well-spent if it were used to restore the string of numerous forts now in ruins associated with the Maratha king. That would showcase Shivaji’s times and his strategies to the world. But this could be picked up and misinterpreted – chances are, it will be – as his being anti-Shivaji. That would be a costly mistake.