In 1987, when the Maharashtra government published BR Ambedkar’s complete works on his birth centenary, the Shiv Sena made a major issue of a chapter in a volume titled ‘Riddles of Hinduism’. Ambedkar had questioned how Lord Rama could be Maryada Purushottam when he (Lord Rama) had toed the line of the Brahmanical order and agreed to destroy the tapasya (meditation) of a lower-caste man. Ambedkar had also questioned how Dronacharya, in the Mahabharata, could ask for Eklavya’s thumb in the form of guru dakshina.
The Sena held agitations but then Bal Thackeray took fright when he saw Ambedkar’s followers unite and rise as a formidable force. That was the only occasion when I saw them sink their differences and come together. That year the Dalit groups demonstrated what they were really capable of — and that shut Thackeray up effectively. He then chose to come to a compromise with the government. ‘Riddles’ could be published but as an appendix. The government agreed with alacrity.
Now the Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray are making noises over another view of Ambedkar without quite understanding its import. While the RSS, if not the BJP, is quoting Ambedkar on the division of Maharashtra, no one is sure how his followers might now react to a public avowal of or opposition to Ambedkar’s views on the issue. During the states’ reorganisation, when Bombay State was formed in 1956 out of parts of today’s Maharashtra and Gujarat, Ambedkar had described it as ‘a monster state’. Jawaharlal Nehru had asked both the Gujaratis and Maharashtrians to ‘try out’ the experiment but in a few years the leaders of both these communities had decided there would be no justice to either in a ‘mixed’ state. That was something that even Ambedkar had cautioned against but then he went ahead and advocated that four states be carved out of Maharashtra — Bombay as a city state or union territory; Deccan, comprising parts of Western Maharashtra today; Central Maharashtra (Marathwada); and Eastern Maharashtra (Vidarbha). Since the debate then was about linguistic states, Ambedkar had said it was not necessary to have one state for one language. ‘Rather one language for one state,’ he said.
But now, 60 years later, the situation is such that if these four states are indeed carved out of Maharashtra, as MG Vaidya of the RSS advocates, where will it leave Marathi? Vidarbha will slip back into a Hindi-speaking region, Marathwada will return to the Dakhani of old as it was under the Nizamshahi dynasty of Hyderabad. Bombay has a majority of non-Marathi-speaking people, notably Gujaratis and Hindi-speaking Uttar Bharatiyas. Only Western Maharashtra will remain Marathi-speaking. I am not surprised, then, that both Uddhav and Raj Thackeray have seen this impending danger. But what are they doing about it?
Raj has merely threatened RSS leaders with dire consequences if they dare to divide the state. Uddhav has been content with pointing out that the move is aimed at reducing the influence and power of the Marathi-speaking people, 106 of whom died in the 1950s for a unified Maharashtra.
There is a feeling among Shiv Sainiks that their party must break with the government now on this issue to keep their Marathi asmita ethos alive. That might lead to a mid-term assembly poll, whose beneficiary could be only the Shiv Sena.
But does Uddhav have the courage to upset the apple cart? Even his supporters have doubts.