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The humiliation and downfall of Manohar Joshi

October 15, 2013 14:01 IST

Manohar JoshiThe senior-most leader of the Shiv Sena brought it upon himself during the party’s Dussehra rally, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Manohar Joshi, easily the most articulate, senior-most leader after Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena’s founder, had reached positions which perhaps never believed to be in the realm of the possible, leave alone even reach -- the speaker of Lok Sabha. That he had reached there, on the ticket of a party which is not necessarily a believer in constitutionalism, is Indian democracy’s irony.

That he had to leave a podium in utter humiliation when booed by the cadre from where for decades he had delivered rousing speeches in the company of Thackeray, is another. Shivaji Park was also the same place where he had been sworn-in as Maharashtra’s first Shiv Sena chief minister. That was a break from protocol, shifting the venue from Raj Bhawan’s ornate but not commodious durbar.  

His one ambition which he will now possibly have to abandon forever is of being vice president of the country though numbers, as well as his party’s identity has never been in its favour. The A B Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance enabled his ascending the speaker’s chair; after all, apart from his adroitness, Sena was and is in longest alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party. Now that dream is up in smoke.

The Dussehra incident, where he was punished with the obvious consent and perhaps even connivance of the party leadership, will however trouble him more than the satisfaction of having occupied several high offices. The reason is not far to find: Joshi brought it upon himself by exhibiting indiscretion of the worst kind; he was critical of Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership.

It is of note that not one leader from the second rung which occupies the prominent seats on the party’s dais even turned to look at the humbled Joshi as he quietly walked away. Suddenly, the man who once ran the state, often at variance with Bal Thackeray’s whims and helped contain him, had no friends left. Uddhav’s son would now matter more than Joshi did.

One needn’t point it out to Joshi that any criticism in public and defiance in even its cloistered policy making spaces is intolerable to the Shiv Sena. By a leader in public is unthinkable. A party, a metaphor for its leader, then Bal Thackeray and now Uddhav Thackeray, does not countenance criticism even by its rivals. It is quick to take to the streets. The core of his lament was the Sena had forgotten its ways.

In that context, the fact of his being the senior-most did not confer on him the right to speak about a lacklustre leadership. To explaining it away as a misunderstanding was not acceptable to Uddhav Thackeray simply because Joshi may have expected it to be taken as well-meaning avuncular view.

If it had been taken in stride, Uddhav’s leadership during the crucial run up to both the assembly and Lok Sabha elections in some months would have come into serious question. It is not the other leaders but the cadre that keep Sena’s lifeblood coursing in its veins. That is why moments after Joshi left the stage that Uddhav said he would bow only to the cadre. It was at once blunt as well as surgical.

Before he laid claim to the Dadar Lok Sabha seat for the impending general elections in 2014, Joshi could have done a SWOT to realise his utility to the party which is crying to make a generational change, where Uddhav talks tough but prefers to avoid muscle. Joshi had lost his seat in 2004, subsequently, some legislative components too were lost, and in the last civic elections, not a single ward was taken by the party.

But he nursed his hopes and at a wrong moment, allowed his indiscretion to take over. That is so uncharacteristic of the man who, even before he uttered a syllable, took two rounds around an issue for a full 360 degree view. Advancing age, vaulting ambitions despite that, could be one reason but that will not bring comfort to him.

The man who gained the most has now lost it all. His fall has been quicker than his rise. It is something very difficult to live with especially for a person who is in public life. Even if an opportunity were offered, it would be very hard to rebuild his stature within the party for the top leadership spoke through the cadre.

Image: Manohar Joshi leaving the party's rally on Saturday.

Photograph: Sahil Salvi.

Mahesh Vijapurkar