Before the passing away of Bal Thackeray, loads of people had speculated about what might happen to his party after he departed this world. The general consensus was that Shiv Sainiks would desert his son and working president, Uddhav Thackeray, in hordes and make tracks towards his nephew Raj Thackeray, seen by many of them as Balasaheb’s natural heir.
That, however, has not happened. I notice that Raj seems as orphaned as Uddhav obviously is and, in any case, the older Thackeray made sure, with his last public statement, that his supporters offer the same kind of help they had given him to his son and grandson after he had gone.
But I wonder if that has helped or, in fact, hindered the Sena cause. Raj is now duty-bound not to poach his cousin’s supporters and that seems to have left all Shiv Sainiks in a quandary. In the absence of any great show by the second rung of the party, who are all at loggerheads with each other, they no longer know who their new leaders are and what might be their new agenda.
I don’t believe Uddhav’s statement – that they will follow in Balasaheb’s footsteps – would be enough to hold them together simply because most Shiv Sainiks I know do not want to toe that line any longer. Barely two months after the passing away of their supremo, they are realising that Thackeray’s agenda had kept them from progressing and helped them get nowhere. Extortion and muscle power politics are not something that will work in the 21st century and both the Thackeray cousins need to evolve a fresh new agenda to keep the Marathi manoos from straying or walking straight into the arms of people like Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who is mopping them up by the dozens with the promise of a better future.
In this context, I see Uddhav’s call to Raj last week to ally with his party as a cri de coeur but on all the wrong premises. With the formidable Ajit in the background, even the coming together of the estranged cousins, I believe, will not stem the bleeding. Raj had it right at the start of his career, independent of his uncle, when he decided to take all the communities – including Muslims and Dalits – along and look to establish a new order of things for Maharashtra. But then he got caught up in his own DNA. He has offered the Marathi manoos little better than more of the same.
Bal Thackeray promised the Marathi manoos of his time a respectable job as a peon or a clerk in government offices or even the private sector. I wonder if the grandson of that Marathi manoos wants to compete with the Bihari taxi driver or the peanut vendor from Uttar Pradesh or if he is aiming for greater heights -- higher even than that of clerk or peon – in today’s highly globalised and competitive world. Even among Shiv Sainiks on the university senate, it is sad to see that they place higher value on building toilets on campuses (a reasonable enough hygienic need) than on hiring the best academics and evolving the kind of courses that would automatically propel students towards a better future.
I am, therefore, saddened to see no new ideas coming from the younger generation of the Thackerays, some of who have actually made it to proper university degrees. I recently came across a blue-blooded Marathi manoos who narrated to me his tales of conflict with Shiv Sainiks around him all his life. He never believed in Bal Thackeray and was dutifully beaten up every time by his friends for being a Doubting Thomas.
“They were very proud to have found jobs as turners, fitters or loaders at the docks or airport with the help of their shakha pramukhs, Today, they gawk at my three cars and sea-facing apartment which I earned all by myself through education and hard work.’’
His son is already employed with a multi-national company and his turner-fitter friends are now desperate for the same for their own sons, he says. “I tell them they should send their boys to proper colleges instead of lending their muscle to the local shakha pramukhs or Sena rallies. A free mutton biryani each evening or an enforced red light visit will not make their futures. Reading William Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw, like I did, will.’’
Both Uddhav and Raj Thackeray should ruminate on that.