Language mania & Indian sacrifice

Shiv Sena and MNS agenda of playing the Marathi Manoos card has run out of its steam

Language mania & Indian sacrifice

Governor S C Jamir had nominated the seniormost member Ganpatrao Deshmukh as the pro-tem speaker to administer oath to the members.The media gallery too was packed, in anticipation that  something was going to happen. That ‘something’ was the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) warning to the MLAs to take oath in Marathi only, and the equally defiant stand of the Samajwadi Party (SP)’s Abu Azmi, challenging the MNS to stop him from taking oath in Hindi. The MNS chief Raj Thackeray had appealed to all new MLAs to take oath in Marathi, especially in the year which happens to be the golden jubilee of the foundation of this only Marathi-speaking state in the country 60 years ago.

As the House began, the officer called the names of members in alphabetical order, and Azmi’s turn to take oath came quickly. Azmi reached the podium and uttered the first few words of “Mein Abu Azmi (I Abu Azmi)” in Hindi. All hell broke loose in the House. The MNS members, all of them first-timers in the House, sprang from their seats, shouted slogans and rushed towards Azmi. As he continued to take the oath in Hindi, MNS’s Ramesh Wanjle uprooted the microphone and threw it away. Other MNS members came and surrounded Azmi, pushed and punched him and an MNS member, Ram Kadam, actually slapped him and hit him on the chest and shoulder. It was seen by millions of viewers live on television.

Four of them were later suspended by the House for four years; their entry into Vidhan Bhavan premises in Mumbai and Nagpur has been banned. But there was no regret in the MNS camp. Its spokesperson Shirish Parker argued that Hindi was not the national language of the country. “One has to have respect for the Marathi language if he is living in the state. We have not come to the House to see our culture being insulted. Why couldn’t Azmi learn a line in Marathi in so many days?” asked Ram Kadam.

Hypocrisy exposed

The outrage provoked by the incident must have taken even MNS by surprise. All political parties united to condemn the incident. Even Shiv Sena flayed the MNS for physically thrashing Azmi. The Congress, the NCP and the BJP all criticised the MNS action. The hypocrisy of the MNS agenda of “only Marathi” was soon exposed. Some MLAs took their oath even in English and the MNS did not object to that. For example, a Congress MLA Baba Siddique had taken oath in English and that was OK for the MNS. A BJP MLA Girish Bapat took oath in Sanskrit, the mother of all Indo-European family of languages.

The fact is that the North Indians and by that token the Hindi language are currently on the hate agenda of the MNS. The party, which Raj formed after quitting Shiv Sena two years back, was in search of an emotive issue and Raj pounced upon the ‘rights for sons-of-the-soil’ and the perceived hurt of Marathi Manoos.

This issue was fully exploited by his uncle Bal Thackeray when he had formed Shiv Sena in 1960s. At that time, the Sena anger was directed at the South Indians; many Udupi restaurants were attacked then and the public sector like Air India, the State Bank and the Railways were pressurised to take Marathi-speaking candidates.

Shiv Sena, however, remained confined to Mumbai and Thane for almost two decades, and began spreading wings only after it adopted a wider Hindutva agenda, which took it to all over Maharashtra in association with the BJP. The original agenda of Marathi Manoos had run its steam, as far as the Sena was concerned.

Raj is now trying to revive this very agenda once again, and got some success. He launched a campaign against North Indians, whose influx into the metropolis has changed the demography of many a suburb completely.

 There are now a few assembly constituencies in Mumbai from where only a North Indian candidate can win. The MNS campaign took a violent turn when MNS men thrashed North Indians, forcing several of them to leave the state. Raj even opposed celebrating Chhat pooja and North India day in Maharashtra and said that “only Maharashtra Day must be celebrated in Maharashtra.”

Then the 26/11 happened, the people watched the worst type of terror attack let loose on unarmed helpless people by 10 Pakistani terrorists. The Mumbai police lost some of its finest officers in the first few hours of the attack. The entire nation was glued to television sets, watching live the unfolding drama.

Soon the Marine Commandos (MARCOS) of the Navy plunged into action. And then came the elite NSG commandos, who were seen at all target places captured by terrorists - Taj Mahal hotel, Nariman House and Oberoi hotel. On the second day, an NSG commando Major Unnikrishnan died while saving his colleagues inside Taj Mahal hotel, battling the terrorists. It was a supreme sacrifice which brought tears to millions. At Nariman House, a young Havildar Gajendra Singh died fighting terrorists.
The realisation

A realisation dawned on the people of Mumbai, particularly Marathi Manoos. During the 26/11 attacks, the entire nation stood behind them, irrespective of whether they were speaking Hindi or Kannada or Bengali, irrespective of their religion, irrespective of their political leanings. Among the two NSG commandos who sacrificed their lives, one was from South, another was from North. And during those days, an SMS was doing rounds on the mobile sets of Mumbaikars, asking them to locate Raj Thackeray and win prize money.

During and after the 26/11 attacks, Raj maintained silence for a long time, which was broken by the Lok Sabha elections. He had put up candidates at two dozen constituencies, and none of them won, but in nine constituencies, the MNS presence led to the defeat of Sena-BJP and victory of the Congress-NCP candidates.

Then came the assembly elections, which was a turning point in the MNS history. It has won 13 seats, six from Mumbai and seven from a few pockets like Nasik and Thane. In Mumbai, the MNS became the second largest party after the Congress, in terms of numbers of MLAs and vote share also.

Bad for all

Raj is now back to playing games, and Azmi offered his men chance to prove their linguistic parochialism. It is the last thing that any sane people would want, when the very life of the common man is in danger of another terror attack.

Many people are still fearful of their lives, and have little confidence in the security apparatus now in place in Mumbai or elsewhere. And here Raj cuts a sorry figure, his party is viewed as a purely regional outfit, exploiting the insecurity of the people in the name of language. That is bad for Mumbai, for Maharashtra and for Marathi Manoos.

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