The changing world of Uddhav Thackeray
As Uddhav Thackeray makes all the right political moves in his role as chief minister of Maharashtra, he has taken many critics and bitter opponents of the Shiv Sena by surprise. Many have commented that their world turned topsy-turvy when they heard him say in the Maharashtra Assembly that his party had made a mistake mixing religion with politics. Since then, despite partial support of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, his position on the divisive law has been nuanced enough to allow peaceful demonstrations against the Act all over the state without any police atrocity against demonstrators, unlike what has been happening elsewhere in the country.
Thackeray has also agreed in principle to withdraw false cases filed against activists in the Bhima Koregaon violence of 2018. But, most importantly now, he has equated the attack on students in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi with the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai, and avowed he will never allow harm to come to youth and students in Maharashtra. He is proving to be the chief minister Maharashtra had pined for the past five years. People are now hoping he will restore Maharashtra to its former socialist Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar ethos that was sought to be brutally destroyed by the previous regime.
That may not be too farfetched a hope. For Thackeray is actually a chip of the older block — his grandfather Keshav Sitaram Prabodhankar Thackeray, rather than his father Bal Thackeray. Prabodhankar was a social reformer in his time, honed in that very Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar culture. In his writings, he bitterly opposed the kind of upper-caste elitism and religious discrimination being practised by RSS ideologues today, and, yes, his writings also took on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in no uncertain terms, for trying to divide both, the nation and society. He rooted for Mahatma Gandhi, who he lauded for his inclusive politics that drew all religions, castes, and classes together – something that his son (Bal Thackeray) lost sight of over the years, particularly in alliance with the BJP.
Hence, I am not at all surprised that former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has a personal grudge against Thackeray for displacing him from the office of CM, and other BJP leaders, should now want to derail his government. Quite apart from the fact that the key officers put in place by Fadnavis might continue to have more sympathy for their former boss and less empathy for their current CM (it might be a good idea to reshuffle them), Thackeray might also have to watch out for the political fallouts of his administrative decisions. There is no dearth of people waiting to trip him up – for example, former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, who has filed an FIR with the Colaba police station over an innocent placard by demonstrators asking for relief from the lockdown in Kashmir. The placard read: “Free Kashmir”, which was a demand for liberation from police rule in the state, and restoration of democracy there. But now, Fadnavis and Somaiya (who was denied a Lok Sabha ticket by the BJP leadership on Thackeray’s behest), are interpreting that as a demand for ‘azaadi’.
The imminent award of a Bharat Ratna to Savarkar is also aimed at embarrassing the Maharashtra chief minister – though the BJP hopes to kill two birds with one stone, given Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that his name was not Savarkar because he was not an apologist.
With the right kind of advice from his trusted law officers, the chief minister can get over these attempts to show him up or provoke him into making the wrong moves. He is right to allow democratic dissent to prevail in the state, and should not take the BJP’s bait. As for the Savarkar issue, Thackeray has the right to his own opinion or even to change it if he so wishes. When he spoke of people deserving to be beaten up for not calling Savarkar ‘Veer’, he was merely speaking as the leader of a party used to rabble-rousing. Today, he is the head of the most progressive state in the country. History will judge him not for his leadership of the Shiv Sena, but for whether he left Maharashtra a better or worse place than he had inherited from his predecessors.
I am hoping his grandfather, and not his father will be his guiding light in the matter.