He is the enfant terrible of politics spitting fire and hatred. Love him or hate him, for whipping up xenophobia with cyclical regularity, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has managed to carve out a niche in Indian polity and entrench himself deeply in Maharashtra politics in a short span of time.
Though soaked in Maharashtra politics, his wrinkling utterances manage to rattle the doors of politics in entire sub-continent. The latest being: fomenting verbal attacks on Bihar and Uttar Pradesh--the favourite whipping dogs of practitioners of “locals-outsider” politics.
In a span of four to five years, Raj has managed to become a metaphor for procrustean politics. Lacing his speeches with hate charged invectives; the aggressive, grand gestures and louring look for the cameras has been cultivated after a lot of deliberation to evoke a negative response.
Raj today has managed to acquire image of a go-getter, impatient, brusque, arrogant, person with a devil-may-care attitude; simultaneously triggering fear in the minds of his targets. But the image has also left him in a zugzwang political position. It is this desperation to escape from a no-exit position makes him flounder helplessly, riding contradictory political rafts and also assert his identity and independence from his political apprenticeship at the Shiv Sena.
The crucible that embellished his political thinking during formative years was the Shiv Sena. Soon after formation of the MNS the party targeted solitary poor hawkers or deep in sleep, tired cabbies resting in vehicles or dozing youngsters in far-off satellite town railway stations in the middle of the night. And television cameras were always in tow.
The targets of the MNS were always people who were in a vulnerable situation and in no position to hit back; the electronic media was tipped off well in advance and a handful of attacks in the city was blown up and deliberately projected negatively so as to instill fear in the minds of masses.
Negative image may be the in-thing in present times but the pioneer of the trend was Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who found that the dark aura also camouflages deeper political biases and social prejudices.
It was Bal Thackeray who made “intolerance for an imagined insult and imposition of a fabricated fictitious traditions and norms,” a gateway to limelight and a political cottage industry. The two have become inseparable hiding insidious subterranean political machinations.
The root of the MNS lies in the Shiv Sena and while the former may have managed to snatch the mantle, the race between them has only led to an increase in tension for migrants searching for livelihood in Maharashtra, resulting in outlandish suggestions and diktats.
When Raj spoke of “infiltrators,” the cousin and Shiv Sena Executive President Uddhav promptly came out bombastically suggesting, introduction of permit system for outsiders. “Thus in order to understand the mind of the MNS, it is very necessary to explore the roots of the Shiv Sena.
Genesis and growth
In a well-documented study of origins and the Shiv Sena, academician and social analyst Ashok Dhawale, in his research paper “The Shiv Sena: Semi-Fascism in Action”, points out that throughout its 46 years of existence, the party “has systematically targeted different sections of minorities...to build its mass support. Such minority targets have included non-Maharashtrians, Muslims and Dalits.”
Tracing the birth and growth, he points out three distinctive periods through which the party emerged as a force. Soon after its formation in 1966, Bal Thackeray, along with other members, lured youngsters through weekly magazine “Marmik” and street corner meetings wherein they targeted “outsiders,” as the reason behind joblessness and unemployment.
The first targets were South Indians derogatorily called “Yandu Gundu,” and communists as “anti-nationals” ; over the years the face of enemy changed to Gujaratis to Uttar Pradesh natives to Sikhs, to Muslim to the latest being Biharis.
Dhawale further cites speeches instigating people to attack non-Maharashtrians or “outsiders,” for stealing clerical jobs; Marmik showered praises on industrialists even though they were non-Maharashtrians.
This observation of the Shiv Sena being “darling boy of industrialists,” is backed by Vijay Kalantri, a prominent industrialist. Kalantri concedes :“Most industrialists do not harbour ill-feelings towards the Shiv Sena primarily because it is pro-growth and helps them in settling labour disputes. In fact, unlike other trade unions, Shiv Sena unions have always been sympathetic towards industry…and one rarely finds labour trouble where the Sena union is present.”
Social analyst Sandeep Pendse, in his research paper “Dr Datta Samant- A Phenomenon,” notes that soon after the murder of Samant, the Sena rushed in to fill the vacuum created by the medical doctor- turned unionist. The Shiv Sena was practically scared of Dr Samant’s ruthless method and workers loyalty kept a safe distance till in late eighties the Congress resurrected them.
With the unions in bag, Bal Thackeray spouting simplistic morphology of the dilapidated labour spaces also used visual images to convey unspoken messages right from incipience effectively.
Senior lecturer, Department of Sociology, Mumbai University, Ramesh Kamble says: “…roiling in despair and impotency the youth in a heartless city wanted an articulation of power. And Bal Thackeray provided it with the party symbol 'snarling tiger,’ depicting power and aggression. His speeches in Dasara rally which were written about in the media during the run-up as to whom he is going to attack this time played a major role in roping people.
“Moreover, with media shifting in late seventies from politics of issues to politics of personalities; Bal Thackeray growth was like any other was phenomenal… and same is the case with Raj Thackeray.”
However, Prof P S Vivek , Department of Sociology, Mumbai University, differs from his fraternity member. Dr Vivek contends: “...the latest controversial episode is case in point wherein there is an over-focus on describing the forest and missing the tangle of knots on the tree.
“The evidential shreds points out that electronic media had unashamedly churned out a distortion of an event. Raj, like any other politician, has a right to carve out a strategy for garnering votes ...he had just suggested introduction of Kerala system wherein migrants have to inform the authorities in the state here... But the 24-hour Hindi channels edited and deleted that line, creating a controversy out of nothing.”
And possibly in this love-hate relationship between media and Raj, it is the white noise din which finally prevails.