By reminding RSS the country does not belong to one party, Thackeray rubs it in

Speaking hours after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on Dussehra, the Maharashtra CM pointed out Sangh’s double standards from religion to beef and pointedly said the country did not belong to one party

By reminding RSS the country does not belong to one party, Thackeray rubs it in

Sujata Anandan

They say there is no enemy worse than a former friend-turned-foe. He knows all your vulnerabilities and can use them to devastating effect. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is proving to be just that – to the acute discomfiture of the RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party in general and its leaders in particular.

Thackeray has grown from the timid cat he was for years, overshadowed by others for his innate humility and civility. Transformed into a tiger, he has however lost none of his sang-froid and composure and is therefore doubly devastating. He doesn’t have to roar. His growl is enough.

At the Shiv Sena's annual Dassera rally in Mumbai – usually held at the iconic Shivaji Park but this time held in a closed hall with just a handful of party men present to maintain physical distancing – Thackeray lit into the BJP and achieved something that liberal Indians have been trying to achieve for years with little success – redefining Hindutva in the pluralistic vein of Sarva Dharma Samabhav without having to sound irreligious or overly solicitous of the minorities.

He neatly moved it away from BJP's recent definition of India as a land for just Hindi-Hindu-Hindustanis, ritualism and, yes, vegetarianism with our food habits defined by the BJP.

Thackeray has been under fire by Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari for continuing to keep temples in Maharashtra under lockdown in order to avoid the risk of community transmissions. The Governor had the gall to question Thackeray's commitment to Hinduism by asking if he had suddenly turned secular after becoming chief minister. While the Constitutional impropriety of that statement is quite another matter, Uddhav Thackeray pounced upon it to destroy the BJP's claim to represent all Hindus and labelled it as frivolous and embarrassingly ridiculous. Koshiyari is also governor of Goa but he seemed to have no problems with the BJP chief minister of the neighbouring state keeping all Goa's temples shut.

Then again, BJP's obsession with the cow was always an issue with even his father Bal Thackeray. Cow slaughter was already banned in many states, including Maharashtra, by the 1970s; only bulls, buffaloes and old or uneconomical animals were allowed to be slaughtered. Various butchers' associations had brought this to Thackeray Sr's notice, and he had conceded. Whenever asked why his government had let the bill fall through the cracks, Bal Thackeray had said in his inimitable crude style, “We do not slaughter cows in the first place. If anyone thinks we do, first bend down and look under the animal and he will be able to ascertain whether it is a cow or a bull!”

Even during the Devendra Fadnavis government, Uddhav Thackeray had not been too enamoured of the draconian anti-slaughter law and not just because some butchers or Muslims wanted it reversed. UddhavThackeray had listened to dairy farmers who had complained how their inability to cull uneconomical livestock was devastating their bottomlines; but he had to do a fine balancing act on the issue, to avoid being seen as anti-Gomata. This time he achieved that amply with his theme of selective Hindutva – he was speaking in Marathi but, closely translated, what he said was "Idhar Gomata aur Udhar jaa-kar khaata." Selective Hinduism? But, of course!

The Goa government, conscious of its Christian population, has refused to ban beef. Several governments and chief ministers, and various BJP governments in the North East too dare not fiddle with the people's eating and nutritional habits. So that comment was almost akin to AIMIM leader Assadudin Owaisi's quip, "Here Mummy, there yummy!"

There was more.

"Our Hindutva is not like yours which is merely about lighting lamps and banging utensils," Thackeray said in a reference to Narendra Modi's initial attempts to combat Corinavirus through these measures. “Our Hindutva is about nationalism, a commitment to all people, love for our country.”

Now isn't that what eighty percent of Hindus believe in? Patriotism and pluralism? And for decades they have had no conflict with a sense of self and identity. By shifting his party's Hindutva away from the BJP's sectarian and selective identity, Uddhav Thackeray might have not just re-anchored his party's moorings but also returned the idea of India to its original secular, Constitutional beginnings.

Earlier, a month after taking over as chief minister, he had stated in the Maharashtra Assembly in December 2019 quite unequivocally that his party had made a serious mistake in mixing religion with politics. Now, a year later, without quite letting go of his Hindu roots, he has moved his party one step closer to Constitutional plurality without needing to embrace any notions of left-liberalism that usually knock all religions in the pursuit of the secular nation-state.

What Uddhav Thackeray has essentially done is to lay bare the hypocrisy of the BJP and told its leaders that you can be both a Hindu and a nationalist without having to club the terms together and between those two identities, there is enough room in the country for all people.

That is how, after all, our original founding fathers had envisioned India – there were those in the Constituent Assembly who were both fiercely Hindu and nationalist without having to lynch Muslims, destroy Dalits or otherwise seek to render large sections as second-class citizens.

He said many more devastating things to the BJP - that its leaders who today talk of Hindutva were not even known outside their immediate circles during the start of the Ayodhya movement - as true of Modi as of Koshiyari. And that they bother more about their party than the nation, the country did not belong to a single party and that their way was an invitation to anarchy. He is right on all counts.

But I noticed Uddhav invoked his grandfather Prabodhankar Thackeray more often than he did his father - and Prabodhankar's paranoia of fascism and the RSS is not a hidden fact. The grandfather was the other end of the pole from his son Bal Thackeray.

Uddhav Thackeray had discarded the worst of his father's sectarianism even before becoming chief minister and has maintained an even balance between his roots and his new found wings. He has surely come into his own and by doing that, he has set in motion something that could singe the BJP.

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Published: 01 Nov 2020, 3:00 PM