It took 30 years for Bal Thackeray to reduce himself from a terror to a tamasha; it has taken his nephew Raj Thackeray just five. In 2009 the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief was seen as a potential threat to the Shiv Sena and a possible ally of the BJP. But, quite apart from failing to build his party in those five years, he showed himself up as a man with little political acumen and even less common sense in the Lok Sabha elections.
Any ordinary individual would know that straddling two boats runs the risk of falling into the deep waters and that is exactly what has happened to the MNS. For all that people laud neutrality, I have never believed in the insipidity of taking no positions in life — or politics. It was rather silly of the MNS chief to field candidates against the Sena-BJP alliance and simultaneously avow that his candidates would support Narendra Modi. I wonder if it never occurred to him that this was a position fraught with the danger of becoming a wannabe. If people could have the original (Modi), why should they choose the ‘via media’ (Raj)?
But then, once again, Raj did not learn to be original. Impressed by Modi’s hunger for power and his open declaration of ambition, Raj aped the BJP leader to declare his own hunger for the Maharashtra chief minister’s post. He rather grandly stated that he would break the family tradition and become the first Thackeray to contest elections. Of course, that prompted his cousin and rival, Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena president, to make similar noises but at least he has stopped short of openly declaring his candidature.
Now it occurs to Raj that he cannot limit himself to one constituency – that the whole of Maharashtra is his canvas and he will not run for assembly elections after all. But while there is nothing wrong in a Thackeray wishing to contest or even becoming chief minister, I believe realisation is slowly dawning on both cousins that they are both better off with the formula evolved by Bal Thackeray in the 1960s — survival is a better possibility through a deal with the Congress rather than an alliance with the BJP. The senior Thackeray always preferred a Congress government at the Centre and a Sena one in the state. He was happier with the UPA than he ever was with the NDA and got better returns from the former than he ever could from the latter. There was a time when the BJP needed the Shiv Sena more but now clearly those days are over. I have it from very reliable sources that Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have made up their minds and are determined that under no circumstances will they allow the Shiv Sena to take the chief minister’s office — even if the Sena succeeds in winning more seats than the BJP. Clearly the plan is to decimate the Sena at the end of five years and, perhaps, Raj has spotted the threat sooner than Uddhav will. I guess that is why he rooted openly for chief minister Prithviraj Chavan when he supported the latter’s decision to boycott Modi’s public events as a protest against the heckling of rival party chief ministers at government functions.
But now I wonder if even the demoralised Congress has any uses for Raj Thackeray — it certainly has none for Uddhav for it is sure Modi will do the job of finishing the Shiv Sena far more effectively. But while Uddhav does have a lot more sincerity of purpose, I believe Raj has already frittered away all his advantages. He should have got into it with Modi when he had the chance but now, not unlike his uncle and much like the Queen from Alice in Wonderland — off with his head, on again and off again —if he persists with his flip-flops, he is in danger of becoming like the proverbial man who belongs nowhere. It can be best described only in Hindi — na ghar ka, na ghat ka!