The Shiv Sena — generally known to be a fiercely independent party — seems to be caught between the horns of a terrible dilemma, particularly with regard to its ally, the BJP. A few weeks ago, when I called Aaditya Thackeray, on request from my editors in Delhi, to pen a piece on one year of the Modi government, I was told he has semester exams and could not afford to allow his concentration to waver.
But no one else in the Shiv Sena — with no such exams on hand — was willing to pen that piece either. In my conversations with them, it became clear how this would jeopardise their interests.
The Sena certainly does not agree with the BJP on most issues – from the land acquisition bill to the billion-dollar credit line to Mongolia given by Narendra Modi. Heart of hearts, it also does not support the BJP’s position on the beef ban, but is now particularly opposed to how many industries and institutions are being quietly shifted by the Centre from Bombay to neighbouring Gujarat.
Under the circumstances, they could hardly write a piece lauding the Modi government. But they could not put all their resentments down on paper either, though Sanjay Raut, the editor of the party mouthpiece Saamana and their Rajya Sabha MP, has been doing a rather particular job of lamming the Modi government over various issues.
So much so that I was told by a very senior Sena leader that BJP president Amit Shah had complained very bitterly to them about Raut and said, “Do not allow him to ever come before me at any time, or else I might end up not being responsible for my actions against him.”
That did not shut up Raut immediately. But, obviously, at some point the Sena must show some solidarity with the BJP. So, four weeks after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s very evocative remark that the Modi government is a "suit-boot ki sarkar", the Saamana came up with the rather unoriginal representation that wearing Rs 10-lakh suits has no bearing on the electorate. Rather, carrying suitcases filled with crores in cash is worse (Modi had said it before). And that a hundred Rahuls can never match up to the one mega Modi wave -- months after Uddhav Thackeray mocked the BJP for losing it after the Delhi elections.
I tend to agree with both Modi and the Sena that suits are better than their cases. Top Sena leaders, of course, are always correctly attired in desi clothes and always keep their plush lifestyles under wraps. But it is rather rich of the Sena to be calling the kettle black, vis-a-vis the suitcases, because they have had ministers in their previous government caught with these very suitcases. And the reason why a premier city like Bombay never gets good roads in perpetuity is because the municipal corporation is under their control – Raj Thackeray, once in his bitter fight against his cousin, revealed to reporters how the Sena ensures that contractors never build to perfection so that suitcases can keep changing hands at every tendering each year. If roads didn’t develop potholes, there would be no suitcases for anyone at all.
But I am not sure why the suit-boot comment should come up now so long after Rahul surprised the world with that rare witty remark, unless it is to continue underlining the perception problem that the central government is facing. In which case the Saamana is being very clever – expressing sympathy while actually exposing the gaps in government.
However, someone on my timeline on Twitter informs me that the original author of that remark is actually poet and lyricist, Javed Akhtar. While I could not verify that claim, I remember Rahul’s father Rajiv Gandhi’s “Naani yaad dila doonga” remark to Sri Lanka in the 1980s. That was attributed to Javed Akhtar too. If that is true, then obviously, 30 years later, Akhtar has done better on second thoughts. While the ‘naani’ remark brought Rajiv a lot of ignominy, the 'suit-boot' remark obviously is comparable with the political best – like Modi describing the UPA’s prime minister as 'Maunmohan' Singh. The Congress bitterly disagreed as does the BJP today with Rahul.
The Sena is not helping them any.