I had wondered how long Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray would be able to hold on to both his hypocrisy and ingratitude — towards Amitabh Bachchan.
Nearly five years ago, when Bal Thackeray was still alive and his deep friendship with Bachchan was well known, Raj had chosen to attack the actor and his family over the Hindi-Marathi divide.
Of course, Jaya Bachchan, Samajwadi Party MP and Bachchan’s wife, had offered unnecessary provocation by stressing on her Uttar Pradesh origins (when her origins are in Bengal and Nagpur) but I had pointed out even then that both Bachchan and Thackeray essentially came from the same background — Thackeray’s family too are Kayasthas (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus).
Thackeray’s father Keshav ‘Prabodhankar’ Thackeray had migrated from Madhya Pradesh in the hated north India to Maharashtra in search of work — a fact admitted by him in his autobiography published by the Maharashtra government when the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance was in power.
But that is so far as hypocrisy goes. I had always thought little of Raj Thackeray’s campaign against Bachchan in particular because, not generally known to all, the superstar had had not a little role to play in rescuing Raj from certain retribution when he had found himself embroiled in the Ramesh Kini murder case in the mid-1990s. I was then told by unimpeachable sources from inside Matoshree that Thackeray had virtually gone down on his knees to Bachchan to use his good offices with the then United Front government and persuade the Centre to lay off after a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry was ordered into the case. Bachchan, I was told, then arranged a secret midnight meeting at his home with then Prime Minister Deve Gowda who promised not to go out of his way to pursue the case — Gowda is the only non-saffron leader who Thackeray praised to the skies, at one time even describing him as a ‘diamond’. Even then the coincidence was too obvious to miss.
Despite Raj, Thackeray and Bachchan remained friends to the end unlike the Sena tiger’s friendship with the other superstar Dilip Kumar — politics got in the way of their camaraderie when the latter accepted the Nishan-e-Pakistan, their highest civilian award, from the neighbouring country. If Raj Thackeray did not go to jail then and is still a free man today, he owes that to Bachchan and it was about time that he, at least privately, acknowledged that fact. But now that he seems to have sunk his so-called differences with Bachchan, I am not so sure that his is not a calculated move unrelated to the politics of the day, Obviously, he is now going for the north Indian vote that is a substantial one in Bombay and, like had happened with his cousin Uddhav five years earlier, he is setting out to woo them before the elections. In any case, I believe the MNS’ anti-north Indian stance was an artificial one for most of Raj’s trusted friends, lawyers and other confidantes are all north Indians — he only needed an issue to oppose his cousin and electrify the Marathi masses who he now realises are outnumbered by the ‘others’ in the state.
A year after Bal Thackeray’s passing he has clearly stepped into the vacuum that Uddhav has somehow been unable to fill so far as Thackeray’s old relationships are concerned — and that includes some blue-blooded leaders of the Sena. I would not be too surprised to see many others follow Ramesh Prabhoo — who essentially had a quarrel with Uddhav and not Balasaheb — into Raj Thackeray’s party.
So even if supporting Bollywood stars in the 100th year of Indian cinema might be the ostensible reason for seeking a rapprochement with Bachchan, the MNS is clearly getting back onto an even keel as Raj realises the futility of warring against a community that holds substantial sway over electoral outcomes not just in Bombay but now increasingly across Maharashtra.
I can only paraphrase the wise King Solomon: How blessed is the man who finds wisdom. And the man who gains understanding.
Maybe now we can all go back to living in peace, And a prayer for the lives lost during the anti-north Indian campaign.