Some years ago, before his death, Bal Thackeray had raged about Maharashtrian families not teaching their children Marathi and preferring to communicate with them in English. Maharashtrian families were irritated that Thackeray wanted them to be non-qualified in a competitive world where English had become the universal lingua franca and a lack of proficiency in the language automatically disqualified them for jobs and other opportunities.
What people did not realise then was that Thackeray was actually raging about his own family and not the Marathi manoos in general. His ire was just a public expression of his helplessness to change the scheme of things within the Thackeray household – handicapped by their lack of English and Hindi speaking skills, Thackeray’s sons then preferred to send their own children to English medium schools and it got to a stage where they were speaking English to their mothers even at home.
Aditya Thackeray, Thackeray’s grandson and Uddhav Thackeray’s older son, even ended up publishing a volume of poems in English. In the 2014 elections he emerged as the first generation Thackeray who could hold his own with the English language media and his parents were suitably proud of his achievements.
Now the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Shiv Sena’s ally, would like to make Aditya the butt of some under-the-belt jokes – sick and tired of the manner in which the Shiv Sena is holding them to ransom over almost every issue, there are many in the party who say rather ungenerously, “What do you say of a party set up for the Marathi manoos whose future cannot speak Marathi and writes poems in English!”
But what the BJP and even the Congress and NCP fail to realise is that, in the larger scheme of things, the Shiv Sena with its combination of the old and the new is emerging as a credible alternative across castes and communities – and, yes, even states. The Congress and particularly the NCP have become synonymous with the rural elite and it is almost shocking how much the people in the villages are beginning to hate the Maratha leadership – including the Marathas themselves. Whatever the two parties might argue about the Sena’s intemperate language making more news, the fact remains that it is the Shiv Sena, frequently acting as an opposition to its own government, which is seen as more committed to the masses than any other party.
The latest in this is the party’s decision to move a resolution in the Maharashtra Legislative Council demanding a commitment to a unified Maharashtra. That puts the ruling BJP in a bind because although they have come to power in Maharashtra on the basis of their good showing in Vidarbha, a public commitment to a unified Maharashtra, they are afraid, will be seen as a U-turn on their demand for statehood for Vidarbha.
The Sena has effectively put them in a Catch-22 situation and the Congress and the NCP cannot but follow suit. For if they do not commit themselves to a unified Maharashtra, all parties are likely to alienate the masses in all other regions of the state including Bombay, the control of which is more important than of Nagpur, Aurangabad or even Pune.
Then, again, the polarisation between the Marathi and Gujarati speaking people in the city has been such since 2014 that the Shiv Sena stands to gain enormously if it goes to the polls alone – that is perhaps why Uddhav Thackeray, the party’s working president, asked his party workers to be prepared for a solo performance even as the BJP was deciding on the alliance.
But the Sena’s decision to put up candidates in the elections currently underway in states where it can hope to have no presence is also very telling – it will sooner or later strike out on its own and is working towards building up a Constitutional recognition for the party as a national entity. According to the law, you need either a 10% representation in the Lok Sabha or at least one MLA in five states to be recognised as a national party.
The NCP has been fighting the Congress in other states for years despite its alliance in Maharashtra. Why should the Shiv Sena not do the same? And Aditya’s English poems may then well find their editions in Bengal or Kerala.
The author tweets as @sujataanandan