By Mahesh Vijapurkar
One needs to thank Raj Thackeray, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief, for being politically incorrect in saying that he and his party would oppose the renaming of Mumbai’s Dadar railway station as Chaityabhoomi.
"I am opposed to renaming of any sort. What issues are going to be resolved by renaming?" Raj asked rhetorically on Monday.
Chaityabhoomi is the spot on the Dadar beach where BR Ambedkar, a key architect of the Constitution and supreme Dalit icon, was cremated. It is less than two kilometres from the railway station. Neo-Buddhists throng Chaityabhoomi every 6 December to pay homage to Ambedkar, who took Dalits — in this case the Mahars— from humiliating socio-economic bondage to the upper castes, towards Buddhism.
But against Buddhism's tenets, Dalits idolise their leader, making Ambedkarism its sub-cult.
The point here is that at least one leader decided to go against the grain because naming a place – institution, building, street, crossroad, etc – is little more than tokenism, if not actual fraud. It gives the impression that by naming, say, a place after Mahatma Gandhi, contemporary leaders are his followers, which we all know is far from the truth.
Such tokenism was derided by Munnabhai – played by Sanjay Dutt in Bollywood’s memorable flick Lage Raho Munnabhai — thus: “ Tear down Gandhi’s statues, obliterate his name from streets, and remove his images from office walls. Instead follow his principles.” The point is: Why deify Gandhi and then run hospitals without doctors or medicines, schools without teachers, officers without work? The issue is good governance.
One wonders where Raj Thackeray got his equally forthright ideas from, but Munnabhai was scripted for him. What he said at a press conference on Monday bears repetition here. If another flyover was named after his grandfather, the anti-Brahminical activist Keshav (Prabhodhankar) Thackeray, or another statue erected to commemorate him, he would oppose that too, he said.
What he failed to say was that statues and busts serve only one purpose: birds like to use them to leave their droppings.
That clears him of any casteist intent because to be anti-Ambedkar in some contexts can also be anti-Dalit, inviting criticism, violence and action by the law. It clears him of any intent to mischief as his iconoclastic purpose is for the future. Gandhi and Ambedkar are routinely, ritually, revered though Gandhi has given way to Indira and Rajiv, and Jawaharlal Nehru is forgotten.
Raj Thackeray argued his case well. Renaming a place does not help anyone, much less the memory of a leader. Did the renaming of the Marathwada Univerisity afford the region, or its people, Dalits included, a better life? Would giving Savarkar’s name to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (which was ultimately named after Rajiv Gandhi) add to his stature when his name already adorns an arterial Mumbai road?
If Ambedkar’s greatness warranted the changing of a railway station’s identity, why are his sham votaries in the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party not lobbying to have the Constitution-maker’s face on currency notes instead of only Gandhi’s?
These questions are not easily rebutted.
People have been fed platitudes, offered grand dreams, and their emotions played upon for far too long and tokenism has taken root in India. Political debates are now confined to slogans and political spinmeisters on television news channels try to sucker the public with empty rhetoric. Only money speaks in politics. Few seek mandates on performance and delivery.
Despite political incorrectness, Raj Thackeray cannot be absolved of playing politics here. His comments come in the wake of the Congress recalling a year-old recommendation to the government to both rename the station and build a larger, grander memorial to Ambedkar because the Republican Party’s Ramdas Athavale has joined hands with the Shiv Sena.
Because of his alliances, Athavale has been most popular among Dalit leaders in Maharashtra, taking them to the corridors of power as participants. He has enabled many from the Congress and the NCP to get elected to the Assembly and Lok Sabha by adding Dalit votes to their tally. In return, he secured a place for himself in the political theatre. Miffed at unkept promises, Athavale crossed over from the side of self-proclaimed secularists to alleged communalists . Raj Thackeray wants to neutralise Athavale’s new friends.
But how does this statement help Raj Thackeray?
His nativist ideology, violently favouring Maharashtrians over migrants, has inspired awe amongst the locals in Mumbai just as Narendra Modi’s Hindutva has endeared him to Gujaratis. Like Modi, Raj does not find much acceptance elsewhere, in this case Maharashtra, because his stance is self-limiting: Marathis are but a fraction of the city of Mumbai. He desperately needs to make inroads into the city’s civic body, the goose whose golden eggs every political party covets.
To succeed, he needs to belittle every other party, which he has. So there are implied intents in his stand.
But he shines for his opposition to tokenism.
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a senior journalist
Updated Date: Jun 01, 2011 11:57:22 IST