Eye on Maharashtra: People approve ‘tit for tat’ politics

Tired of one-sided vilification and innuendos, people suggest it is fine for political parties to retaliate in kind

Tanuj Virwani(left), Kirit Somaiya and (below) Narayan Rane
Tanuj Virwani(left), Kirit Somaiya and (below) Narayan Rane
user

Sujata Anandan

On a TV programme in September, smalltime actor Tanuj Virwani, son of actor Rati Agnihotri, was asked by the host, “If you could punch one person, who would you choose?”

“Just one?” asked Virwani. He then thought for a moment and then perking up said brightly, “Rahul Gandhi!”

Now Rahul Gandhi has been easy game for political rivals, BJP spokespersons and TV anchors because they are comfortable and secure in their belief that he is a gentleman and would not retaliate in kind or slap them with a court case. He would not react and would never dispatch goons unlike some of the regional parties tend to do.

But Congressmen in Mumbai were not amused. Within hours of the show airing, Suraj Thakur, a Youth Congress worker from Mumbai, was on the phone to Virwani.

“Who did you say you want to punch?” he asked the bemused actor. “Do you know who Rahul Gandhi is? Two members of whose family became martyrs for the nation? And you want to punch him for serving the nation?”

As Virwani began to blabber in shock, Thakur gave him an ultimatum. “I want a retraction of that statement and an apology from you posted on all your social media platforms within the hour.”

Virwani obliged, calling himself thoughtless and stupid and vowing he had not made the statement out of any sense of malice. But local Congress leaders did not stop there. They buttonholed Virwani and presented him before the media, to prevent any possibility of deletion of the apology on a later date. Once again Virwani told the media how sorry he was, that he was stupid to make the statement, that he had no political affiliations and had made the remark thoughtlessly in answer to a question by the host and not of his own volition.

Public reaction would have delighted the Congress leaders. People said they approved of and were impressed by the reaction of Congressmen in Mumbai and expressed the hope that the party would remain as aggressive in future. Enough is enough, many of them felt.

The Shiv Sena, known for reacting to the slightest provocation with sticks and stones, on the other hand has mellowed somewhat in its association with the Congress within the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. When Union Minister Narayan Rane expressed the desire to slap Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sainiks filed a series of FIRs against him. The Union Minister was arrested despite the fact that the government knew the arrest would be unsustainable under the law. But to get even, the Shiv Sena-led government added an element of humiliation - Rane would have to report to the local police station, which he had lorded over in the past, for some weeks as condition for getting released on bail.

This was quite a contrast from the UPA government at the Centre, which had taken no action against the person who had actually slapped the then Union minister Sharad Pawar, instead of just expressing a desire to do so, as Rane had.


But when former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya posted wild allegations of corruption on social media against two ministers in the Uddhav Thackeray government, the Shiv Sena took Somaiya to court and sought Rs 100 crore damages. Anil Parab, considered very close to Uddhav Thackeray, asked Somaiya to prove his allegations or face the consequences in the court.

Somaiya was taken off a train by the police while he was mid-way to Kolhapur to ostensibly investigate into the properties of Hasan Mushrif, an NCP minister close to Sharad Pawar and one of the few Muslims in Maharashtra who had won from a Hindu majority constituency in 2019. His popularity among his voters was likely to cause a law and order situation in Kolhapur, the government said, and the police brought him back to Mumbai and confined Somaiya to his home.

The retaliation by Congress workers and the Sena Minister have come as a pleasant surprise to both party workers and the general public. Sena workers are happy that their leaders have lost none of their pugnacity while Congress supporters are also welcoming the aggression shown by workers. For far too long, they felt, detractors have got away by targeting Rahul Gandhi, secure in the knowledge that he would not retaliate but maintain a dignified silence. More such reactions, they feel, are warranted and point to a recent instance when a journalist misrepresented Rahul Gandhi by taking a video clip of his address to a group of women party workers out of context.

Supporters of both parties hope they will continue to gain the upper hand over their rivals.

(The writer is an author, columnist and journalist based in Mumbai. Views are personal)

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines