Who owns the Bandra-Worli sealink in Mumbai? We know who constructed it. We know who inaugurated the first phase. We know who it is named after. But who owns it? Who can legitimately claim that this sea link belongs to them? The guys who built it and collect toll? The governmentwalas for clearing permissions? The labourers who built it? Can we dare to say that this piece of architecture belongs to the people of Mumbai, those who can afford to travel on it to save commute time as well as to those who cannot; who have to be content to just look?
Now that that question is out of the way, here’s the next one. Who owns Amitabh Bachchan? Clearly, his immediate family has an interest. Clearly his friends, political and otherwise, have an interest. But could you stretch it and say he belongs to lakhs of his fans, not just in Mumbai or Allahabad but all over the world?
When Raj Thackeray huffs and puffs and calls for a boycott of Amitabh Bachchan films in response to Jaya Bachchan’s insistence at a film function to speak in Hindi because she is from Uttar Pradesh, we denounce him as a thug. Bachchan points out that the Indian Constitution has granted him the right to live in whichever part of the country he chooses to. But, he also clarifies, his wife meant no disrespect at all.
Raj’s uncle, Bal Thackeray, writes in Saamna that Amitabh Bachchan belongs to the entire nation. So, that should settle the question of ownership. But then he moves his sights onto another national figure, Shah Rukh Khan. Bachchan belongs to India. Shah Rukh is a ‘Dilliwala’ who should pack his bags and go home, decrees senior Thackeray. Let’s just say that logic doesn’t run deep in the Thackeray genes.
But — question three — what does one make of Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who is fast turning out to be a doppelganger for the Thackeray parivar?
First comes Chavan’s astounding statement that taxi- drivers (routinely bashed up by Raj and his goons for coming from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) must speak in Marathi — a statement that he later tries to clarify is a requirement of some law in some statute book.
Now, saying it was a mistake to invite Amitabh Bachchan, arguably India’s biggest film star, to the opening of the Worli-Bandra sealink is — what? — plain stupid.
Chavan who shared the dais with Bachchan at the inauguration says in hindsight that it was a mistake to have invited Bachchan because he is the ‘brand ambassador’ of Gujarat. Had he known that he would be sharing the dais with Bachchan, he would have stayed home, he says. Mumbai Congress president Kripashankar Singh, meanwhile, sparks off a whodunit by saying he was not consulted about the invitation.
So, was it the NCP, the Congress party’s uneasy allies in the state? Is there truth in the claim that the NCP wanted to inject a bit of ‘glamour’ into what would have undoubtedly been a dreary inauguration? Sachin Tendulkar, another national icon who also happens to be a son of the soil, was not available, so Amitabh Bachchan was sent a card.
What remains really now that the coconuts have been broken and the sealink extension officially opened is the unedifying smallness of the Maharashtra Congress. Bachchan is a national icon, he belongs to the people who have a rightful claim to the sealink.
Inviting a man of the people, whoever invited him, was appropriate and correct. Bickering about it after the event is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is Ashok Chavan’s attempts to claim the loony space so far occupied by the Thackerays.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal