When Raj Thackeray organised a massive rally at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on 21 August to demand that the then city Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik and Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil resign owning responsibility for the violence during a rally of the Muslim community on 11 August, it was hailed as the coming of age of the new-age Balasaheb Thackeray. He seemed to be doing everything right. Many gushed over his sense of style and the note of challenge — his trademark — in his speech.
Earlier, he had defied the police order to hold a protest meeting at Azad Maidan and not a rally. He addressed the MNS workers with his usual flamboyance, designer sunglasses and corporate boardroom dressing completing the picture.
There was a hint of theatrics too. But his speech made sense. He was not going over-the-top in targeting any group. It was a good political speech. The verdict among political analysts was near unequivocal: Raj Thackeray has arrived. In the state of political wimps, he was the new macho man.
The government acknowledged his power and shifted commissioner Patnaik, who had actually done a brilliant job at quelling the violence of 11 August which had the potential to escalate into a communal conflagration. It refused to oblige him on RR Patil though. In hindsight, the move on Patnaik was a bad one. It was a virtual admission of failure. The government had the option to put its foot down and say no. It didn’t.
The result: the MNS chief is getting more brazen now. First, he chose to call Biharis in Maharashtra `infiltrators’ and threatened to pack them off. This was in response to a letter from the Bihar chief secretary to the Maharashtra government which cited the displeasure of the Bihar government at the arrest of a youth by the Mumbai police for the vandalisation of the martyr’s memorial during the Azad Maidan protest.
Next, he virtually issued a threat to Hindi television channels for misquoting him. “Hindi channels telecast news without even understanding the issue. Such channels should discontinue their game, otherwise we will do what we can to stop this game,” he declared. For long, he has been known to issuing menacing statements like “we are going to deal with the issue our way’’. It usually means the Sena way of strong arm tactics.
Raj Thackeray is a clever politician. Obviously, he is playing to his favourite Marathi constituency while making these statements. He also knows no publicity is bad publicity in politics and his professed hate objects in the the state — migrants from UP and BIhar — are not his core vote bank. It helps that he has no ambition outside the state. But should he be allowed to get away with it all the time?
From the young leader who was expected to be a whiff of fresh air in the staid politics of the state, we have never heard much about the drought situation in the state or the farmer suicides in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions. He has been mostly silent on several important issues concerning the state and its floundering economy. Six years into politics with his new party, not much is known about his core ideas for the state. It is only when there’s an emotive issue, he is out with all guns blazing. He refuses to grow up from a Mumbai leader to a state level leader.
The government, obviously, is in a catch-22 situation. If it acts against him, it will only make him more popular. If it does not, there are chances that passions will stay charged in the city and some day lead to a potentially dangerous situation. Obviously, the ruling party wants to play safe and, if possible, use the new outfit in its political games. Moreover, the ruling party has a vested interest in not cutting him down to size – his existence cuts into the Sena-BJP vote.
But can it allow a section of the people to live under threats all the time? How is it that only in one state in the country we have a situation like this? The current situation does not speak well of the quality of politics in Maharashtra. Raj Thackeray could certainly do with more inclusive politics and less a strident note in his speech