Ten days after a handful of streetfighters aligned with a struggling young political scion slapped two men on a local train and trashed three taxis, a political reality show fuelled by a 24/7 media ended in the arrest — and mass recognition — of Raj Shrikant Thackeray.
Its cosmopolitan image dented, India’s global city remained at peace as the emerging cities of Pune and Nashik absorbed the fallout of Raj’s bash-the-northerners campaign. Ambadas Dharao, a mechanic with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, and ironically a Maharashtrian, died in a barrage of stones hurled at a company bus in Nashik.
<b1>A cartoonist-turned-politician, Raj (39), his face grim, was arrested at 4.20 pm from his terrace flat in the upper-middle class central Mumbai area of Shivaji Park, from where his estranged and aging uncle Bal Thackeray (81) has delivered diatribes against south Indians, Muslims and north Indians since 1966.
President of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Raj was squeezed into a police van and driven in a heavily guarded convoy to Vikhroli in Mumbai’s north-east and released on conditional bail.
Police and paramilitary units kept Mumbai secure, but his arrest created a fog of fear over the city. Taxis, largely driven by north Indians, went off the roads and the evening rush hour was a shadow of its usual self.
Wednesday’s arrest indicated how Raj adroitly used a 24/7 mass media in a state where television now reaches over 50 per cent of all households to gain maximum impact with minimal violence — a technique that is now being perfected in the new India by the new Indian politician. “It is rather unfortunate that some channels kept on repeating old clippings that created panic. Panic then led to rumour mongering and sporadic incidents of violence. We made more than 2,000 arrests across the state,” said state police chief PS Pasricha.
On the day of his arrest, Raj turned into a household name across India, with more than a dozen new channels playing the story through the day.
Experts said this would help him do what he could not in the two years that he has formed the MNS: to project himself as a young militant leader. The party has so far managed to bag just 31 seats in civic bodies of five cities including Mumbai.
To create that same image, Bal Thackeray and his original Sainiks had nearly shut down Mumbai in the past. "With the drama and the media hype, he (Raj) has created a household image and an identity for himself," said Mumbai University political commentator B Ventakesh Kumar. "Though it remains to be seen how long he can maintain the image, with elections around the corner he will try to create a constituency for himself on the basis of that."
In a state that is 42 per cent urban and has a population of which nearly half is below the age of 30, Raj Thackeray needs an image and agenda that will attract restless young voters unsettled by the breathless pace of economic change and globalisation.
It was that image that the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government wanted to deny Raj, so it took five days to decide on his arrest.
It was essentially a political enmity between two Thackeray cousins-Uddhav and Raj-that took another turn as Raj targeted north Indians. However, the political games have damaged Mumbai's reputation as an aspiring global city. As billions of rupees being pumped into city's booming service sector and infrastructure, can Mumbai afford to have a reputation of a city that can be brought to a halt over parochial politics?