Last winter, during the assembly elections, I was stunned by the reactions evoked by the Owaisi brothers. They were like rock stars raising thunderous applause from the Muslim youth at their rallies. Akbaruddin Owaisi, the younger of the two, was preposterous as ever and the elder brother, Asaduddin, was hard put to mop up after his sibling. But even while I found Asaduddin reasonable to talk to, I gave Akbaruddin the miss as he would have raised my temper, as often happens vis-à-vis Raj Thackeray.
I later realised the Muslim youth, while equating them with the Thackeray cousins in terms of temparament , were looking upon the brothers as role models — not necessarily true of the cousins vis-à-vis the Maharashtrian youth. They were both ‘English-educated’, ran reputable educational institutions in Hyderabad, were espousing some feasible ideas for their community (unlike the Thackerays) and still wore their religion unabashedly on their sleeves.
But while the Muslim youth equated Asaduddin’s reasonableness to Uddhav’s modest style of functioning and thought differently about both Akbaruddin and Raj as an angry young man with little, some or no cause for such unreasonable ire, I would say that the Owaisi brothers are far more intelligent and capable than the Thackeray cousins. They are building a party nationally all on their own while the Sena has grown somewhat from a regional outfit to a national canvas, essentially because of its association with the BJP. Moreover, it has not been able to evolve a strategy and programme for their core constituency beyond what was ideated by its founder-patriarch Bal Thackeray in the 1960s. While the Owaisi brothers are taking the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-e-Muslimeen from the narrow confines of Charminar in Hyderabad to the rest of the country, the Shiv Sena is still meandering the streets of Bombay, with issues not even relevant to the rest of Maharashtra, sometimes unable to move beyond the Gujarati-Marathi divide and at others the ‘jobs for locals’ issue in a metropolitan cosmopolitan city.
What kind of jobs, though? Bal Thackeray was fighting for clerical jobs for the Marathi-speaking population, which was reasonably educated in the sixties and seventies. As far as I know Maharashtrians are no longer willing to be confined to offices as clerks and peons. They have moved beyond these jobs to top rungs in the state, country and world beyond to compete with the best.
I wonder, then, what Maharashtra’s transport minister Diwakar Raote means by saying that new licences in Bombay will be issued only to Marathi-speaking autorickshaw drivers. I know he doesn’t mean that these licences will be given to Uttar Bharatiyas for they are a majority of such unorganised sectors in the city.
The Sena’s insistence on this condition makes me believe that either local Maharashtrians have been pushed beyond their sixties and seventies levels to being just taxi drivers or peanut vendors or that the Shiv Sena is hopelessly out of touch with reality.
Equating the AIMIM with the Sanatan Sanstha, allegedly involved in the killing of rationalist Govind Pansare, is another example of its inability to recognise the reality. For while the Sanatan Sanstha should be banned, it is the Sena which is the mirror image of the AIMIM, which, at least so far, has neither provoked riots like the Sena nor killed anyone like terrorists. But I can see one mirror is rather cracked and foggy, while the other has a sharp new reflection. It is up to the Shiv Sena now to polish up its image to suit the challenges of the times.