To some the public humiliation of Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi at the party’s annual Dussehra celebrations in Mumbai may have come as a shocker, but his relationship with the party and the Thackerays has always been rocky, says Neeta Kolhatkar.
That Manohar Joshi has fallen out of the good books of Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray has come as no surprise. For this has been one tricky relationship since long. In fact Joshi has done a lot of balancing act in the Shiv Sena for over two decades. Considering the close ties he maintained with a few politicians, guarded and not, they had irked first the late Bal Thackeray, and now his son Uddhav. In fact Joshi was always seen as one shrewd politician in maintaining relations with many people, ably compartmentalising his personal equations from the professional.
Speaking of his equations, it is no secret in political circles that Sir, as Joshi is known, has been a close friend of the powerful Nationalist Congress Party chief, Sharad Pawar. Not many will recall, but Joshi being made the chief minister in 1995 came as a shocker to many. The late Thackeray’s first choice and that of most Shiv Sainiks was the reticent, intelligent and extremely loyal Sudhir Joshi. In fact, the day Manohar Joshi was tipped to take the oath of office, till the previous midnight the name doing the rounds was Sudhir Joshi. One leading Marathi daily even published Sudhir Joshi’s name on the front page, but the printing press was stopped, the edition recalled to change the name to Manohar Joshi. The whispers then had it that it was none other than Pawar who had managed to convince the old Tiger to make the other Joshi the CM.
Since then Joshi’s relationship with the Thackeray family could only be termed as tumultuous. I’d like to recount that day at Mantralaya, the seat of administrative power in Mumbai, when Enron officials, led by Rebecca Mark, were in town to meet not the CM but Bal Thackeray. I was working with a television company then, and got Joshi saying on camera, “Ï’m not someone who can be remote-controlled”. Naturally, Thackeray hit the roof! He firmly told the media he held the remote control in his hands and within minutes Joshi claimed he had been misquoted, ‘Saheb’ was god almighty and he never said he can’t be controlled by a remote.
No soon had the Enron fiasco ended, another Marathi newspaper on January 30, 1999, reported that Joshi’s tenure was over and the next CM would be Narayan Rane. Most political journalists laughed at the report, because they felt some lobby had wrongly leaked this ‘news’. But what most did not know was that the journalist had met some influential businessmen the night before in a Nariman Point hotel. He saw a fleet of cars with business heads moving stealthily and asked them the reason for the secret meeting. He was informed that Joshi was to be given the marching orders and Rane will be the next chief minister. The reporter placed numerous calls to Joshi, but the then CM was punctilious about his meal and sleep timings and so didn’t answer the phone late at night.
The next morning Joshi was summoned to Sena Bhavan and told to hand over his resignation letter, and Rane was sworn in as CM. At that time Bal Thackeray was said to be livid with Sir. The main reason was the alleged involvement of Girish Vyas, Sir’s son-in-law, in a land scam in Pune. By then Thackeray had made a few taunts too. Sir’s son Unmesh was also a rising star, and many a Sainik would say in hushed tones, “Tyanchya tizoritla awaz khan khantoy” (The sounds from his safe are resounding). There were other instances, too, like when Mercedes Benz launched its mini bus, the first vehicle was sent to Unmesh for a test drive. The opposition then, mainly Nationalist Congress Party members, would smirk, “Now why would Mercedes send him the first model?” Unmesh was said to have even taken the two cousins, Raj and Uddhav, for a spin in the vehicle.
Sir’s son was said to have found his calling by becoming a businessman. By then Joshi and his family members were also said to be involved in various businesses. In fact even then Thackeray didn't spare any opportunity to let Sir know who was the boss. At one rally, Thackeray in his true satirical style taunted Joshi, saying he shouldn't forget that his beginning was doling out fake educational certificates -- hinting at the latter’s Kohinoor institute, which then was said to have no accreditation.
At the time Joshi was forced to resign, Thackeray also got convinced that Sir’s relations with Sharad Pawar were too close for comfort. In fact, like Pawar, Joshi too held the powerful position as president of the Mumbai Cricket Association and even said that he learnt politics in cricket. In the next elections, I asked Sir why it was that often, in political circles, he was termed as ‘Nana Fadnavis’, a reference to the historical figure who managed the affairs of the Peshwa rulers and who was known for his immense administrative, diplomatic and financial skills. Sir in his true style laughed off the reference and said he was a trusted lieutenant of ‘Balasaheb’.
But the fact is while the late Thackeray could not do away with Joshi, he could never trust him either, as Thackeray believed Joshi was capable of turning his back on him but not on Pawar. One needs to wait and see how Joshi deals with the latest setback, which was far too intense and personal with the taunts at the Shiv Sena’s annual Dussehra rally. Uddhav it seems has virtually shown the door to Joshi. And though Sir is said to be close to Raj Thackeray, all eyes are on Pawar, to see whether the latter can help rehabilitate his political career.