Politicians have been raving about Raj Thackeray’s superb political skills which have transformed his little known political party into a household name in the country. "Why on earth didn't we think of it before?” wondered a senior politico from a local party. “It’s so simple — get a handful of our people together, invite the press and bash up a couple of bystanders. You can then count on the media to blow it up out of all proportion.” Informed sources say there was quite a debate within an opposition party on which group to target. Said a party worker on condition of anonymity, "Bal Thackeray had made Dakshin Bharatiyas the target, his nephew Raj has done the same for Uttar Bharatiyas and we didn’t want to be copy cats. So we thought long and hard and burnt the midnight oil before coming up with the idea that maybe we should choose Paschim Bharatiyas as our victims." On a reporter pointing out that they too were Paschim Bharatiyas, the spokesman said, "Oh."
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers were overjoyed on hearing that all the publicity had led to the formation of a branch of their party in far-away Mizoram. Enquiries revealed, however, that the MNS there stood for Mizo Nationalist Society. “But we’re open to the idea of bashing up Nagas," said the Mizo party spokesperson.
The policy of targeting North Indians, however, is having some strange side effects. Unconfirmed reports have come in that MNS workers in Sangli, a district town in the southern part of Maharashtra, had combed the town for North Indians, without success. Frustrated, they then bashed up a couple from Nagpur. As one party worker explained, "Nagpur is north enough for me." A branch of the party had also written to headquarters asking for guidance whether Sardars too are North Indians. A recent circular from the party has since clarified that :1) Sikhs are not Uttar Bharatiyas but rather Uttar-Paschim Bharatiyas; 2) They are usually big and strong.
Of course, not all politicians are impressed. "What's new about the strategy?" asked a seasoned old hand, “It was the British who first thought up the idea of Divide and Rule." Pointed out another grizzled warhorse, "There's no such thing as the Maharashtrian lobby — you have the Brahmins, the Marathas, the Dalits and so on." He added that he was in the process of cobbling together a rainbow alliance of Dalit Maharashtrians, Gujarati Patels, Uttar Bharatiya OBCs, Shia Muslims and Tamil Iyengars, which would give him the numbers required for re-election in his constituency. Asked how he would hold this diverse bunch together, he said it was simple, they would band together to bash up all other communities. "That way, they’ll have an interest in sticking together," he smirked.
Incidentally, the Mumbai economy has been given a big boost by the ongoing agitation. Shops have opened all over the city selling pictures of Amitabh Bachchan. “These pics have been selling like hot cakes ever since Raj sahib, peace be upon him, started this holy war”, said a shop owner. “The protesters buy copies in bulk and then burn them." However, a competing businessman said he’s stocking up on pictures of Raj Thackeray instead. “You see, the market for burning Amitabh’s pictures is limited,” he pointed out, “whereas the idea of burning Raj’s pictures has national appeal.”
Be that as it may, the idea of ridding Mumbai of outsiders has certainly touched a chord in many Mumbaikars. The Kolis, fisherfolk who claim they are the original inhabitants of the city, say they want everybody who came to Mumbai before 1750 to get out. However, Leo Braganza, from the suburb of Santa Cruz, pooh-poohs that claim. “Bombay was part of the dowry brought by Catherine of Braganza when she got married to King Charles the second in 1661,” says Leo, “and since Catherine of Braganza was my great-great-great-great-grand-aunt, I have a right to the entire city of Bombay.” “Everybody elshe,” he added, waving a flagon of feni, “should jusht get up and go.”
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint