The official website of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (www.manase.com) says Raj Thackeray’s grandfather, Prabodhankar, was born at Panvel in Raigad district. That’s as close to Bombay as it gets. But that is also as close to a lie as can be told.
Bal Thackeray’s father travelled from Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra in search of work and at least the Thackeray patriarch made no bones about his origins in his autobiography --- Mazhi Jeevangatha (My Autobiography).
The MNS, to suit its own anti-north Indian agenda, would have us believe that the `Thackeray’ family name was actually `Panvelkar’. But Prabodhankar’s father wanted his son to call himself `Thakre’ because they were originally `jagirdars’ (rich landowners) from Dhodap, near Nashik and so were really `Dhodapkars’ before they became `Panvelkars’ and then `Thakres’. The last, of course, as everyone knows, was modified to `Thackeray’ by Prabodhankar who was a great admirer of the India-born British writer, William Makepeace Thackeray.
All of this beggars belief in the absence of historical records to prove the same. Clearly, there is a lot of Bollywood inspiration in this story spun around Prabodhankar, who himself never gave, well, himself any airs. The attempt to convince us that Prabodhankar’s father named his son `Thakre’ after the `jagir’ in Nashik sounds very unoriginal, smacking suspiciously of screen depictions of zamindars with `jagirs’, and all named `Thakurs’. As romantic and fanciful as it gets, this seems an attempt, quite lacking in subtlety, to rewrite family history. Even Balasaheb never tried to give himself a background he never had: perhaps, because he knew well enough that even he is not an original `Mumbaikar’ (original residents were Koli fishermen).
The family’s background is that of Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus (CKP), traditionally a community of scribes (or Kayasthas) whose origin, as is well known, is in Uttar Pradesh from where they travelled all over the country to act as scribes to various kings and rulers (maybe that’s why the Thackerays are all writers and cartoonists to this day). In fact, I am told, when the prominent Marathi historian of those times, VK Rajwade, challenged the upper-caste Kshatriya status claimed by the CKPs, Prabodhankar wrote a fierce critique denouncing that theory as casteist. His essay outlined the identity of the CKPs in Maharashtra and their contribution to Chhatrapati Shivaji’s empire even before the Kshatriyas of Rajput origin had joined him and Brahmins/Peshwas continued to revile the Maratha warrior king.
In his autobiography, Prabodhnakar was honest enough to admit that he was lower-middle-class (not `landed’) and migrated to other cities from Madhya Pradesh, finally settling in Bombay, in search of livelihood – just as hundreds of Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis are doing today.
However, it might not suit Raj to acknowledge his `uttar bharatiya’ background as he searches for a new identity towards political gains. But when he first started his anti-north Indian agitation in 2008, Professor Hari Narke, head of the Mahatma Phule Chair at the Pune University, had written in `Rashtrawadi’, the Nationalist Congress Party’s magazine: “Raj should read the autobiography of his grandfather... Prabodhankar studied in Madhya Pradesh. He has written about how he travelled to other states for livelihood. This proves that the Thackerays, who are not original inhabitants of Mumbai, came to this city in search of a livelihood.”
Narke ought to know. After all, he was instrumental in getting Prabodhankar's writings published by the Maharashtra government in 1995, when the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance was in power. “Who gave those who came to Mumbai two generations ago to earn their livelihood, the right to beat up others who also come here in search of jobs?” the professor questioned. “It does not behove people who live 24 hours a day seeped in history to forget the history of just over two generations.”
Not surprisingly, there was not a peep out of Raj or any of the other Thackerays against Narke who, obviously, knows his onions. Now, of course, Uddhav Thackeray has also raged against Biharis after Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh’s comment that the Thackerays are originally Biharis – but that is just Singh confusing the issue by overstating the fact of the Thackerays’ north Indian origins.
So, I believe, Raj Thackeray is doing a great disservice to his own forefathers by his anti-north Indian agitation: clearly there could be a lot of country cousins among his victims. And some of that blood spilt by the MNS could well be traced back to the Thackerays!