During the course of writing my book on Bal Thackeray (Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever), noted Marathi scholar Aroon Tikekar startled me by stating that Maharashtrians had been set back by at least one generation thrice in their chequered history.
The first time was during the third battle of Panipat in 1761 when a Maratha army led by Sadashivrao Bhau was completely routed by a coalition of Indian nawabs and the Durranis of Afghanistan. It took nearly a generation for the Peshwas to even venture into war and empire-building again.
The third was soon after the birth of the Shiv Sena. Living in the times, I can see how true that is. The Sena’s snatch-and-grab attitudes, scant attention to education and academic accomplishments and reliance on muscle power and activities bordering on the unsavoury have indeed set back many of Thackeray’s supporters.
But it was the second instance that completely startled me — soon after Independence, Maharashtrians received their biggest setback because of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse. “Very few people trusted Maharashtrians after that. We could not play as big a role in nation building as we could have otherwise,’’ I was told.
For all that I have lived in Maharashtra and among Maharashtrians all my life, I did not understand why Maharashtrians could not be trusted because of the mad actions of one man. I personally never found them any more untrustworthy than any of the rest of us, Indians. But last week, suddenly, everything fell into place when I met a senior Congress leader who spoke frankly to me with the caveat, “Never, never ever will you quote me on this on record.”
“The ‘untrustworthiness’ is not about Maharashtrians but just about Brahmins.” The Marathas, he told me, have hatched a conspiracy ever since Independence to keep the Brahmins out of governance.
As a ruling class, they hated that the first couple of chief ministers of undivided Bombay state were Brahmins and every time there has been a non-Maratha chief minister — like AR Antulay or Manohar Joshi — they have done everything to destabilise their governments.
“They simply took advantage of the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the fact that the initial entrants were mostly Maharashtrian Brahmins. They wanted us to forget the contributions of a whole gamut of Maharashtrian Brahmin leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and others. They will not allow a Brahmin ever to get close to the office of chief minister.”
He was very brave in venturing that opinion for the Congress and its offshoot, the Nationalist Congress, are parties dominated by Marathas and their biggest ammunition against the BJP and the Shiv Sena in the coming elections is now the fear of the Brahmin domination in the state.
I always knew that the unfortunate death of Gopinath Munde would be a blow to the BJP but now with clear indications that neither Narendra Modi nor Amit Shah will allow the Shiv Sena to lead a possible government, the Congress-NCP combine is fuelling the fear among Marathas that they could end up with a Nitin Gadkari or a Devendra Fadnavis as the next chief minister.
Moreover, both are from Vidarbha and this is another factor being used to lure voters from other regions to their side.
In the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the NCP suffered badly essentially because of Modi’s OBC background – that was a charming factor for large sections of the people who have traditionally hated upper caste domination and they rooted for Modi all the way.
Munde, as an OBC, too had that advantage, besides the fact that he knew the state like the back of his hand. There is no one in the BJP or the Sena quite like him now to combat Sharad Pawar, Prithviraj Chavan or Narayan Rane who is now the Congress’ campaign chief in the state.
Modi broke the traditional mould of Brahminical domination at the Centre when he swept to power in New Delhi in May. But now that situation has been turned on its head —clearly a reverse gear is the need of the hour to stop the rivals in their tracks..