For someone who flips-flops on most issues, there is one thing to be said about Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray – he is a man of distinct dislikes and he will not be swayed by any consideration to change his mind about his bugbears.
Thackeray has always hated communists and even today he spares them no blushes. He dislikes the BJP’s duplicity over various issues (like wooing the Muslim electorate) and he makes no bones about their hypocrisy, never mind that he has been their ally for more than two decades.
And now he reinforces his animosity towards former President APJ Abdul Kalam - he has always loathed this dignitary and, though he was left with no choice at the 2002 presidential elections (when Kalam was elected unanimously), he never stood on ceremony while calling him names, even when the BJP was in power at the Centre.
Sometimes Thackeray’s criticisms could get personal. I recall, in 2007 – fortunately for the BJP, it was out of government by then – Thackeray took on Kalam for his hair style. Actually, he was attempting to consolidate his Hindutva votes at the municipal elections at the time and held the president personally responsible for not turning down the mercy petition of Afzal Guru, who had been indicted by the courts for the December 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament.
“Perhaps he cannot see. His hair gets in the way of his eyes,’’ Thackeray had said. But there was more – without being explicit, he suggested that the bachelor president’s long hair was a feminine fetish. The nation was outraged. So was the BJP, which was very possessive about Kalam, proud of the coup it had pulled off by making him the president, hoping it would earn them some brownie points with Muslim voters at the next elections. But what they might have gained on the swings with Kalam, they clearly lost on the roundabouts with the Gujarat 2002 riots and they could say little to Thackeray then about desisting from insulting Kalam. As it turns out now, Kalam’s book - Turning Points - is set to cause the BJP a lot of embarrassment anyway, with the revelation that neither former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor the NDA administration was keen on his first state visit as president to Gujarat. As Kalam puts it, he decided to “overrule” the PM and visited Gujarat anyway in his bid to bring a healing touch to the strife-torn state.
So, obviously, Kalam was not quite a ‘rubber stamp’ president. As is now even more obvious with another crucial revelation – that he would have sworn Sonia Gandhi in as the prime minister had she so wished in 2004 because, constitutionally, there was nothing anyone could do about the leader of the winning coalition forming the government.
We have always been led to believe that it was the NDA which stuffed Kalam’s ears to block a ‘foreigner’ from becoming PM, thus making Sonia’s decision to install Manmohan Singh instead look like a compulsion rather than a ‘sacrifice’. They could not afford to let Sonia run away with this very Indian value.
The BJP has not said much so far on both these revelations but now Thackeray has taken Kalam on over his own silence when speculation was rife about the then president’s role in that imbroglio. I agree with Thackeray that Kalam should have squashed all those rumours as they arose, for all political parties lie and he should have really not let them get away with it.
But while I will not go so far as to label Kalam ‘hypocritical’ or ‘shallow’ as both the JD(U) and Thackeray have done, I cannot help agreeing with the Sena chief that there was more to Kalam’s silence than just gentleman’s honour. Thackeray is convinced it was not presidential discretion but ‘selfish interest’ that kept Kalam quiet – he might just have cut very close to the bone.
For, of course, with the truth revealed, Kalam would never have got even a look-in for a re-election as he did in 2007 or a serious consideration of nomination by the NDA this time around. Thackeray is right -- the NDA would have been enormously embarrassed and should thank its stars that Kalam turned down its offer.
I almost wish he hadn’t. There is no sight quite as edifying as watching politicians spin lies – and get caught in their own web.