The silly season seems well and truly underway in Mumbai. The reaction to an off-the-cuff remark by actor Jaya Bachchan, to the effect that she would speak in Hindi at a function in Mumbai since she was from UP, has attracted a predictable response from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and its fiery chief Raj Thackeray. Now we understand Mr Thackeray’s outrage; Maharashtrian parochialism has been his one-point agenda since he formed the breakaway Sena. But when the state Home Minister R.R. Patil says that an inquiry will be conducted into Mrs Bachchan’s remarks and the BJP adds its two-bit on the insult to Marathis, the situation becomes ever more absurd. To add to the drama is the sight of Amitabh Bachchan’s cringeworthy apology for his wife’s ‘misdemeanour’, with the actor even offering to go to jail himself. Mr Thackeray has graciously accepted the apology as his due.
Now all this may sound ridiculous but underlying it is the threat of violence that Mr Thackeray’s forces could unleash. Already, they have beavered away across the city tearing down posters of Mr Bachchan’s latest film. The fact that the film fraternity has closed ranks against the MNS did little to make Mr Thackeray see reason. This is because he is fairly certain that he and his followers will not be penalised for their blatantly anti-social and disruptive behaviour much as they did last time around when they unleashed their Maharashtrian chauvinism on hapless Bihari and UP migrant workers.
Mr Thackeray, as head of a registered political party, is not above the law. But the state government has not seen it fit to even advice him to calm down leave alone warn him against attacking innocent people and destroying public property. The result has been the steady erosion of Mumbai’s reputation as India’s most cosmopolitan city. The state government’s silence will be interpreted by the MNS as cowardice. The message to the MNS should be unambiguous. Rant and rave all you want, but if you take the law into your own hands, you will have to face the consequences.