Ever since the formation of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in 2006, Raj Thackeray has been using an old combination of violence and intimidation in the name of Maharashtra and the Marathi manoos which successfully fuelled his uncle Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena into becoming a force to reckon with in Maharashtra politics.
This formula which opened a niche for the Shiv Sena in state politics in the 1960s is now being applied rather effectively by Raj Thackeray who, like other politicians, has his sights set on the 2014 general and state elections. Raj loves to imitate his rabble-rousing uncle every which way- be it oratory or mannerisms.
After encouraging political victories in the 2009 assembly elections and the 2012 municipal elections in Maharashtra, the young Thackeray is now earnestly preparing for the 2014 elections. On one hand, his elected corporators and MLAs have been instructed to be super-efficient and responsive to the expectations of voters in their wards and constituencies. At the state level, every issue that Raj raises is engineered to garner substantial media and political mileage. This is what happened with all of his recent agitations - be they against unfair toll collection in Maharashtra, the ‘nuisance’ of migrants from UP and Bihar, the presence of Bangladeshi Muslims or opposition to a TV channel's Indo-Pak music show Sur Kshetra.
Energized by the periodic show of strength by his supporters, Raj never hesitates to threaten whoever he pleases. More often than not, it is soft targets like multiplexes and radio stations for not showing Marathi films or airing Marathi songs, telecom companies for the absence of a customer service in Marathi or as happened recently, Hindi news channels for not being fair to him. Ever since his party’s 2008 attack on poor, north Indian migrant labourers from UP and Bihar, the language is always intimidatory: mend your ways, do as I tell you or I’ll have you shut shop in Maharashtra.
Such language strengthens Raj in three ways: It brings the weak and the vulnerable to their knees, propels Raj into the limelight and adds to his clout and popularity among a growing base of supporters. He is hailed as a man of action who delivers quick results.
In 2008, Raj had warned of a violent opposition to films and products endorsed by superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s family after objecting to his wife and actor Jaya Bachchan’s “anti-Marathi” remarks. Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan who had remarked during a film promotion event that north Indians in Maharashtra would prefer to speak in Hindi and not Marathi apologised later that she did not mean any disrespect to Maharashtrians.
On most occasions, Raj Thackeray’s threats have drawn a mute response from the same Congress-NCP government which slapped the serious charge of sedition on a harmless cartoonist like Aseem Trivedi. It was therefore not surprising when Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar protested recently that the Centre and Maharashtra government had failed to rein in the MNS chief for his threat to throw Biharis out of Maharashtra.
While other political parties have their own agendas, the Thackerays have found their niche in the politics of the Marathi manoos and Marathi pride. No one can question love for Maharashtra and therefore, the state’s legendary warrior-king Shivaji becomes the central deity for the Thackerays and they justify their intimidatory tactics in the name of the Marathi manoos.
The anti-Muslim card is another element in the strategy of the Thackerays which is not only effective in whipping up passions against Pakistan and Bangladesh but also helps the Thackerays sharpen their focus on the non-Muslim voters.
Bal Thackeray recently told his party’s newspaper Samana that he wants the army under his command “for just a month” to turn the country around. Raj Thackeray is creating one of his own- on the very same lines that Bal Thackeray built the Shiv Sena 'shakha by shakha'. Using this political opportunity, many neighbourhood bullies have climbed the ladder of politics and have become municipal corporators, MLAs and even ministers.
The Sena’s history will show that it has always resorted to mob violence and intimidation to demand respect. The Sena’s violence against the communists who had a sizeable presence among the mill workers and unions of Mumbai, was condoned by the Congress because it suited its political interests. By the time the communists were eliminated, the Sena had become a force to reckon with and Bal Thackeray became bigger and bigger, metamorphosing into a demigod.
History is repeating itself in Maharashtra and we are seeing a second round of politics based on street violence and intimidation, planned and executed meticulously by the MNS in the name of the Marathi manoos. Raj Thackeray is unlikely to give up on violence and intimidation because this formula has worked in the past.
Using this aggressive stance, the Shiv Sena and the MNS have created a valuable political space for themselves. They have all the more benefitted from the weakness of the rule of law in India.
The people of Maharashtra don’t deserve to live in a state of lawlessness where politicians openly threaten that they will incite violence unless they and their views are given the right of way. With the next round of elections not very far into the future, the politics of hate and intimidation is bound to be on the upswing. This is all the more reason why troublemakers have to be dealt with a firm hand and nipped in the bud with a greater emphasis on maintaining law and order.