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Our bittersweet politics

Some years ago, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had announced at one of his annual rallies that he had given up eating the delicious Indian sweet, rabdi. Ever since RJD chief Lalu Prasad's wife –Rabri Devi – had become Bihar's chief minister he tended to puke at the sight of that sweet, Bal Thackeray avowed.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2012 17:30 IST
Sujata Aanandan

Some years ago, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had announced at one of his annual rallies that he had given up eating the delicious Indian sweet, rabdi. Ever since RJD chief Lalu Prasad's wife –Rabri Devi – had become Bihar's chief minister he tended to puke at the sight of that sweet, Bal Thackeray avowed.


So, clearly, he was insulting his nephew Raj Thackeray when he described the latter as "rabdi" in his newspaper, the Saamna, last week.

"The delicious vada (a Maharashtrian savoury) has now become rabdi," he said in reference to Raj's backtracking on the issue of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's visit to Bombay for the Bihar Day celebrations on April 15. Raj had threatened Kumar but retreated after an appeal to him by the BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, for which Raj has now earned the appellation of 'natwarya' from his equally inveterate thespian of an uncle.

If Raj threatens and then retreats, he only follows in his uncle's footsteps – Thackeray has been doing the same all his life. So he should have known Raj was merely posturing with no more than the intention to derive the maximum political mileage out of his opposition to the Bihar CM's visit to Maharashtra. Having made his point, he might have been as relieved as Thackeray usually is under similar circumstances to draw back from a confrontation that could only have brought him more grief in terms of warrants and non-bailable cases, many of which he has been unable to shake off from his last round of rampage against North Indians in the state.

But rather than target Bihar's CM or each other for political reasons, the Thackerays might have done well to help call off Monday's strike by Bombay's autorickshaw drivers if they had really wanted to go down as 'doers' in the book of the 'locals'. For, while one Bihari neighbour of a close friend was mouthing abuse for Raj a day before Kumar's arrival in Bombay, the day after he was full of similar abuse for 'locals' for having dared to go on that auto strike, without realising that most of those auto-drivers are not 'local' Maharashtrians but those from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

He was startled to learn that, that same Monday morning, even Bal Thackeray and his Saamna were echoing him through similar abuse aimed at the striking autorickshaw drivers and their union leader Sharad Rao – as much of a Marathi manoos as the Thackerays -- for inconveniencing Bombay's commuters so.

Now both the Senas, much as they have tried, have not been able to break Rao's domination of the auto and taxi unions for years even as another Marathi manoos – Nitesh Rane – has arrived on the scene to add to the competition.

So most of these taxi and auto drivers – by and large the hated North Indians – are being led by local Maharashtrians who are cocking a snook at fellow manooses, the Thackerays, even as they inconvenience commuters who might be from all shades of society and, indeed, from all parts of India. Our Bihari friend was shaking his head in incomprehension, unable to understand why the dividing lines were not really black and white as he had thought when he first arrived in Bombay seven years ago. Now Raj calls off his agitation on one appeal from Gadkari, a Shiv Sena ally, whose party is also an ally of Kumar's in Bihar. Thackeray slams Raj for calling off his agitation against Kumar, yet lauds the Bihar CM for the excellent work he is doing in his own state. The lines all blurred before his eyes.

"Do you know one Maharashtra Navnirman Sena candidate won from a constituency where Uttar Bharatiyas dominate -- and that despite their rampage?" I asked him. He, then, just gave up trying to understand. But it did not take him long to see the common thread between all: the politics of self-gratification and the desperation of each and every one of them (bar, perhaps, Kumar) to keep themselves relevant -- all the 'natwaryas' are struggling actors, either new-comers seeking toeholds on shifting sands or inveterates on the decline and all desperately hanging on to that infirm territory with their fingernails.

He finally exclaimed, "We Indians are all like this only, no?"

Yes. Just Indians, all. He finally understands. Now for the Thackerays.