Raj Thackeray was in search of issues in 2007 to further his Marathi agenda when he thought he had hit upon an ideal one. He decreed that registration numbers on all vehicles in Maharashtra henceforward be written in Marathi.
The Road Transport Authority (RTA) byelaws clearly state that licence plates be written in English alphabets with Arabic numerals. “If they can make this concession for Muslims and allow them to write in Urdu, then why this step-motherly treatment to Marathi?” Raj asked as posters supporting his demand went up across Mumbai.
They had to be brought down hastily a day or two later following media ridicule and an explanation from the authorities: Arabic numerals simply meant that the numbers were written as 1, 2, 3 etc; not as I, II, III et al, which were Roman numerals. “This has been done to facilitate vehicles to travel all across India because authorities in one state cannot be expected to read alien scripts. It is a central law in the interest of uniformity. No one in any state can overturn it,” the RTA said
That level of ignorance was brought back this week to his Marathi manoos campaign, when his spokesperson Shirish Parkar denied — on national television — that Hindi was more than just the language of Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis. “It is not the national language,” he stated unambiguously.
I was appalled but not really surprised. Because even Bal Thackeray has never in his life been conversant either with the Constitution of India or any of our laws. “North Indians migrating to Mumbai will not be
given ration cards,” he had announced as his first policy soon after the Sena-BJP government came to power in Maharashtra in 1995, knowing little that the rationing authorities were not at the beck and call of the state government.
Pramod Mahajan of the BJP had to stretch himself to the extreme to persuade Thackeray to withdraw the remark and convince him that it was not constitutionally possible to disallow anyone to come to Mumbai and apply for a ration card. Then, again, at the ripe old age of 73, Thackeray Sr did not know the difference between a Commission of Inquiry and a simple Enquiry Committee. “They are different?” he had asked. And he was not dissembling.
Raj, then, is just a chip off the old block. But this time, perhaps in ignorance again, he has breached all constitutional propriety, setting himself up as an extra-constitutional authority by writing to all Maharashtra MLAs to eschew Hindi — or else.
Who will tell him that even the President of India cannot overturn Hindi as India’s national language?