When the Maharashtra government brought a Bill to ban cow slaughter in 1995, Bal Thackeray was the first and last court of appeal for the butchers’ associations of Mumbai. He agreed to stop the Bill and when journalists questioned him on this, he snapped back, “First bend down and see if the animal has udders. No cow is being slaughtered here or anywhere else.”
Thackeray was right. It was only bulls and male calves that were slaughtered. As he told me afterwards, he had consulted experts before coming to the decision and these experts had told him such a complete ban would work against the national interests. It was not just that India was competing with Brazil and other nations for beef exports — if the Bill were passed, cowhide would not be available for the world-famous Kolhapuri chappals and Thackeray was nothing if not a blue-blooded Marathi manoos looking out for the interests of the state. Then, again, animal rights groups funded by foreign NGOs were pressing for this ban and it aroused Thackeray’s suspicions. What he discovered was that after gold, leather from India was the most sought after — and it was an attempt by western organisations to put an end to these exports so that their own leather goods could find a market not just in the West but also India. The designer Jimmy Choo was then sourcing leather from Dharavi. If these exports stopped, Indian workers would be the biggest sufferers — and Thackeray was nothing if not a nationalist.
So he stopped the ban and everything he feared then is coming true now, including the decline of the Kolhapuri chappal. The jostling between the Shiv Sena and the BJP then reminded me of Tweedledum and Tweedledee but, today, the nationalist debate between these two is also cause for much concern and ridicule.
Uddhav Thackeray now takes to nationalism with rather more confidence and somehow I agree with him when he says the BJP has made a hero of JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar. Uddhav has gone to the extent of saying that Kumar cannot be labelled anti-national. Now even Aditya Thackeray has joined the bandwagon by pointing fingers at the lack of judgement on the part of BJP leaders.
It was unnecessary for the police to make it difficult for Kumar to address meetings in Maharashtra. It unnecessarily excited the social media, which went to town on the obstructionist ways of the government. But that apart, Uddhav has also been very critical about chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ position with regard to the chanting of Bharat Mata ki Jai. Fadnavis had said people who don’t want to chant the slogan have no right to live in India. Uddhav had snapped back, “But they have a right to die in India!” That was some finger pointing at the failure of the Fadnavis government to stem farmers’ suicides and tackle the drought in Marathwada.
The accusation, however, is deliberate. Sena workers have been pressing Uddhav to distance himself from the BJP for it has begun to be obvious the party is fast losing ground among all sections of society, rural and urban. Mere distancing though might not be enough. The Sena must be seen to be making a sacrifice to garner some sympathy — and that will come only if it sacrifices its position in government.
Bal Thackeray did not have that kind of courage. Will Uddhav have that?