Maharashtra needs a Nitish Kumar to read the Riot Act to law-breakers patronised by Thackerays

Should goondaism have any place in democratic politics? The obvious answer is ‘no’. But, unfortunately, with all the lofty claims that the contours of our democracy are both deep and wide, goonda elements continue to sully our democratic credentials. And these elements are not just the fringe political actors, like the self-appointed gau rakshaks and other vigilante groups whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly chastised as criminals; some of these law-breakers are key political actors who get a lot of attention in the regional and national media for mostly wrong reasons.

Two such political actors hitting the headlines in the recent times are Mohammad Shahabuddin and Raj Thackeray.

There are, of course, some basic differences between the two. Shahabuddin was a criminal who graduated into politics. Raj Thackeray is essentially a politician who routinely uses criminal elements to further his political ends.
This difference apart, as it stands today, there is a lot of similarity between Shahabuddin and Raj Thackeray. Both have been using strong-arm methods to browbeat their opponents and make political capital out of it. Both have a sizeable communal following, most of their followers being the unemployed youth.

File image of Raj Thackeray. PTI

File image of Raj Thackeray. PTI

As far as political success is concerned, Shahabuddin has, of course, a much better track record than Raj Thackeray. The Bihar gangster has won election as an MLA twice and as a Lok Sabha MP thrice. But the Maharashtrian strongman has not yet succeeded in setting foot in the legislature, either at the state or in the centre. His party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) won just one assembly seat in the last assembly election. It could not muster enough support even to contest the last Lok Sabha election.

But such a peripheral political actor attracts national media attention because he has the ability to unleash a violent mob on a hate target and cause complete mayhem. Well, every society has its share of law-breakers. But it is the task of the state to clip their wings and make them realise that they cannot get away with murder.

But, unfortunately, strong-arm politicians like Shahabuddins and Thackerays have been invariably patronised by the powers-that-be. Shahabuddin had a free run during Lalu Yadav’s 15-year-rule (along with his wife, Rabri Devi), when he bloomed as a political leader. But his ease at fusing politics and crime faced impediments when Nitish Kumar took the mantle of power and pursued the cases vigorously in the court. Thanks to Nitish government’s efforts, Shahabuddin has been in jail for last 10 years (except for a brief period when he was released on bail recently).

But, unfortunately, there was no Nitish Kumar in Maharashtra politics to contain the hoodlums patronised by Thackerays, the uncle or the nephew. When the senior Bal Thackeray was spewing venom against the executive, legislature and judiciary and unleashing the uneducated and unemployed Marathi youth on the ‘outsiders’ — the migrants from the south India and the Hindi heartland — those in power, mostly Congress leaders, tried to appease him.

These Congress leaders had their vested agenda. First, they wanted to use the self-appointed custodians of Maratha interest against Communists who were a major force in the trade unions of the state. The Congress leaders largely succeeded in their mission; the communist citadel was demolished.

An anti-communist Thackeray was a covert ally of the Congress, despite his protestations to the contrary. No wonder, when Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in 1975 and came down heavily on political opponents, Bal Thackeray was spared. He cravenly went round to announce his loyalty to the emergency regime and support for the emergency measures.

It was only after Mrs Gandhi was ousted in 1977 and the Janata government came to power that Bal Thackeray carved out an independent political position. Having trounced the communists, the ambitious Thackeray sought to defeat the Congress itself, in order to emerge from the shadows as a lackey of the party in power to a de jure wielder of power.

To succeed in this mission, Thackeray had to choose a new target. The obvious choice was the anti-Muslim plank. By shifting his paradigm from a regional to a communal polarisation, he sought to broaden his support base. In this new mission, Thackeray found a natural affinity with the BJP, both on account of ideological and political exigency.

It is hardly surprising that, Shiv Sena, the outfit that Bal Thackeray had set up, managed to snatch power, in collaboration with the BJP, from the Congress in the mid-nineties. What is surprising is that in its ascent to power, despite his incendiary and inflammatory rhetoric, neither the executive nor the judiciary succeeded in reining him in.

Take, for instance, the incident in October 1991. There was a scheduled cricket match between Pakistan and India at Wankhede stadium. With his anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan venom, Bal Thackeray threatened to set the stadium on fire if the match was not canceled. To demonstrate his intent to go for the jugular, he dispatched a team of hooligans, who defiantly marched into the stadium, dug holes in the pitch and poured oil into the holes and triumphantly walked out. The match was canceled. The weak-kneed Congress government became a mute witness to this open defiance of the law.

Bal Thackeray continued to cock a snook at the law and to strike terror in the heart of the official machinery in Mumbai (even the otherwise irrepressible Arnab Goswami of Times Now fame, who usually roars like a lion, appeared like a tame mouse while interviewing the Mumbai tiger, Balasaheb!), while the political and judicial establishment of the state did not dare to take him on.

Raj Thackeray, Balasaheb’s nephew, wanted to step into the shoes of his dreaded uncle; that is why he has been meticulously copying the strong-arm methods that brought political success to the Shiv Sena. Like his uncle, he has so far gone unscathed; this has emboldened him to take the law into his hands with impunity.

In the same way that Bal Thackeray had declared that he would not allow a cricket match with Pakistan take place in Mumbai, Raj Thackeray now says that he would not allow films with Pakistani actors to be screened in theaters in Maharashtra. His threat elicited a video message of abject surrender by Karan Johar, the producer, whose film with a Pakistani actor is set to be released on 28 October. Now a compromise has been worked out: Johar will contribute Rs 5 crore to the Army Relief Fund and give an undertaking that he would not employ Pakistani artistes in future.

The Maharashtra chief minister, instead of coming down hard on the MNS hoodlums who have been threatening to take law into their hands, has brokered this compromise to appease Raj Thackeray.

The reality is: no Congress chief minister could make the older Thackeray see the long arm of the law. As it is increasingly becoming obvious, no BJP chief minister is likely to succeed in bearding the younger Thackeray lion in his den.

The question is: why is it that no leader in Maharashtra has the spine of a Nitish Kumar to read the Riot Act to the law-breakers patronised by two generations of Thackerays?

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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2016 16:06:39 IST

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