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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Can Raj Thackeray hold the courage of his conviction?

If the government wants to go after Raj, there are many other cases besides Kohinoor where he has not been very circumspect

mumbai Updated: Aug 21, 2019 00:16 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Raj has taken on the ruling dispensation and rallied on the side of a debilitated Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
Raj has taken on the ruling dispensation and rallied on the side of a debilitated Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)(Satish Bate/HT Photo)
         

It feels very strange to know that a Thackeray has been caught in a government agency net. There has been much that had been wrong with the Shiv Sena over the decades, but Bal Thackeray and his descendants always escaped retribution, even when they might have indulged in extreme criminal activities, like the alleged murder of a political rival or the alleged incitement of riots that killed hundreds.

Bal Thackeray always lived in the shadow of political privilege and protection from the authorities, be that in the earlier years of the Congress and later of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Even when the Srikrishna Commission, which probed the 1992-93 riots, named Bal Thackeray as the inciter-in-chief of the riots, governments, both the Congress and the BJP, were reluctant to take action against him, essentially because he played both parties against each other and flaunted his invulnerability and invincibility. “Touch a hair on my head and there will be blood on the streets of Mumbai,” he often threatened.

Congress governments were thus afraid of taking action against Bal Thackeray fearing the action would incite riots. And though the BJP tried to do justice to the victims of the riots by reinstating the Srikrishna Commission after the Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra had dismissed it as soon as it came to power in the state, in the final run, the BJP too was afraid of losing votes if they targeted Bal Thackeray.

Obviously, the political needle has shifted in the country. Neither Uddhav Thackeray nor his estranged cousin Raj enjoys the kind of unquestioned support of the masses as Bal Thackeray did, and the government is willing to take its chances. But the needle has also shifted because Thackeray’s nephew Raj has emerged as a man with the courage of his convictions than either his uncle or cousin ever did. After all, Uddhav swallowed his words and realigned with the BJP after five years of needling the ruling party, while Raj has taken on the ruling dispensation and rallied on the side of a debilitated Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), knowing they can do little for him and the BJP, with recent history of retaliation, could do him much damage.

However, I am surprised that the government found nothing better than the Kohinoor case to target Raj with. A proper investigation of the deal might lead them to other doors than just Raj’s. Kohinoor was promoted by former Sena chief minister Manohar Joshi and it is Kohinoor that was the cause of the ultimate rift between not just Raj and Matoshree but also Uddhav and Joshi.

Around the time the deal was struck, I recall an insider telling me that Bal Thackeray was highly rattled about where Raj had found crores of rupees to invest in the project. The same insider told me that Bal Thackeray had suspected that Joshi had loaned Raj the money and that he had done so to bring Raj back to Matoshree because at the time the two cousins were in a bitter battle with each other over the spoils of the Shiv Sena. Uddhav, as Bal Thackeray’s son, felt he deserved a bigger share of party interests, and Raj thought he was the better campaigner, bringing in the votes for the party that Uddhav never could, and that entitled him to an equal say in the party.

But neither Uddhav nor his father was enamoured of Joshi’s interference, and I am told by many Shiv Sainiks, that this favouring of Raj is why Uddhav side-lined Joshi in the years after his father’s passing.

Meanwhile, Joshi’s son, who was a partner, is said to have reprimanded his father after seeing Bal Thackeray’s annoyance, saying he would not allow his father’s politics to destroy his business interests. Raj soon ceased to associate with the project. I do not claim to know every last detail of their business deal, but definitely the politics of Kohinoor shut the doors of Matoshree on both Raj and Joshi, who had thought his political sophistry would carry the day and this could keep both Raj and Uddhav, between whom he had been negotiating, in his debt forever.

If the government wants to go after Raj, there are many other cases besides Kohinoor where he has not been very circumspect. During his lifetime and when the Shiv Sena was in power, Bal Thackeray did some nimble footwork with then prime minister HD Deve Gowda to bail Raj out of the Ramesh Kini case. But Raj is quite on his own now. I wonder how long he will hold the courage of his conviction.