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Shiv Sena's own Mahabharat
November 29, 2005
India is no stranger to warring cousins. The best, and most enduring, piece of literature to emerge from the country is a lyrical account of two groups of cousins going to war.
As the protagonists in the battle for control of the Shiv Sena -- cousins Uddhav Thackeray and Raj -- gird up, they will do well to turn to Ved Vyas's seminal work before setting out on the course their action has marked for them.
Uddhav, of course, has already chosen which character he would like to portray in this struggle. I am like Arjun being pushed to fight one's relatives, he said on Sunday as Raj unfurled the flag of revolt. If one were to carry his simile further, Raj becomes Karna, born from the same womb as Arjun but condemned to perish fighting his younger brother.
If this is the Mahabharat, Bal Thackeray is like the old king Dritharashtra, torn between his love for his sons and the yearning to do his dharma as king. He falters, naturally, as any of us would when faced with such a choice.
The Kurukshetra war and its consequences were entirely his doing.
Similarly, Bal Thackeray cannot escape responsibility for the unseemly goings-on that have convulsed the party he founded 37 years ago to articulate the voice of the Maharashtrian middle class which was getting squeezed out in its own state and city. Did he do right by Raj Thackeray, is a question that he alone can answer.
A minor test here: visit www.shivsena.org and look for a mention of Raj Thackeray on the homepage. There is the founder, there is his son, the only two persons who matter in the Shiv Sena today.
Obviously, Raj would not have gone on the war-path if the Malvan by-election result had not gone the way it had. The Thackeray family had camped in a place that was till recently a party fortress, the ailing Thackeray Sr even took time to address election meetings, and normally this would have sufficed for the party to breast the tape. Instead, the Sena candidate forfeited his deposit, while simultaneously a Mumbai parliamentary constituency that included the Thackeray residence in its precincts voted overwhelmingly for a political novice from the Congress.
If Narayan Rane's switching loyalties was bad enough, the adverse election results stunned the party rank and file. Obviously the family's magic was on the wane. It is no secret that Bal Thackeray had been looking to relinquish charge fully in favour of his son, who was nominated as working president by none other than Raj. But with the party's future looking bleaker than it ever did in the last 10 years, there was no other option before the nephew but to speak up.
In politics, timing is everything.
Had Raj revolted at the time his cousin became working president, it would have been attributed to jealousy.
Had he revolted when he said his nominees were being sidelined in the party, it would have been attributed to pique.
Had he done so as the band of deserters crossed over to the Congress, he would have been dubbed an opportunist.
Instead, he bade his time till the right moment came his way.
Perhaps he meant it when he said he never wanted to go against his uncle, that he holds Balasaheb Thackeray in the highest regard. He must do so, for him to have kept silent for so long at the way the party was being managed.
Even now, he had not called up his uncle with his grievances nor has he responded to being summoned to the Thackeray residence, but sent a fax stepping down from party positions. Maybe he is genuinely traumatised at going against his mentor's son.
But ambition is a funny thing.
If you are ambitious and don't work it, you end up a failure.
Dame Luck is a fickle consort, she will favour you just once. If you don't reciprocate, she will move on to other suitors.
In his late 30s, Raj Thackeray sure wouldn't want to end up in the footnotes of Maharashtra's political history.
Clearly, the two cousins cannot retrace their steps. There is no way Uddhav Thackeray is going to step aside for his cousin; nor can Raj retract his ourburst -- 'quartet of four karkoons (clerks) is running the Sena,' is my personal favourite -- and behave as if all is hunky-dory.
All said and done, he has breached the party's discipline, a crime in the dictatorship that was the Shiv Sena so long as the father ran it.
But it will be a foolhardy Shiv Sena if it proceeds against Raj Thackeray for his rebellion. It is a weakened force, and throwing the book at him will ensure its slide to ruin is quicker.
For the issues he has raised -- of rule by coterie, suffocation in the party, etc -- could be at the centre of the Shiv Sena's woes. Addressing them, and not shooting the messenger, would be the way to go. True, Raj's issues mirror those raised by other Sena stalwarts like Narayan Rane, Ganesh Naik and Sanjay Nirupam at the time of their exit. But Raj is part of the founding family, and deserves more than a patient hearing.
If not, the party will crumble. Which would be a tragedy, for even a naturalised Maharashtrian like me can see that its political space is not to be forfeited. The Bharatiya Janata Party, despite claiming to be a kindred ally, is a national outfit, and does not claim to speak for Maharashtrians. Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party's main foe is the Congress, with which it is ironically in alliance. As the twin tornadoes of globalisation and liberalisation threaten to overturn lifestyles, especially in a more developed state like Maharashtra, the need for a political party like the Shiv Sena is all the more acute. Not as a rabid, anti-minority, street-fighting outfit like how it began, but as a sober articulator of the native middle class and the youth's concerns.
The Shiv Sena's self-styled Arjun, Uddhav Thackeray, can prepare for war, but wisdom lies in averting bloodshed. A quick read of the Mahabharat would show that after 18 days of blood-letting, neither side is the winner; it was only a pyrrhic victory.
Is that what Bal Thackeray wants for the organization he founded and nurtured for so long?
Do you agree with me? Either way, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org