Eye on Maharashtra: A puppet on every string

Raj Thackeray is a sacrificial goat for BJP, a mere puppet lending himself to whoever offers him resources for survival without much political conviction

Eye on Maharashtra: A puppet on every string

Sujata Anandan

Devendra Fadnavis is no Pramod Mahajan and Raj Thackeray is no Bal Thackeray whether in political acumen or their way with words. But in one aspect both Mahajan and Fadnavis are identical – mere BJP subalterns trying to turn the Thackeraysinto their stooges and make them the fall guys for all their own unsavoury activities.

Mahajan and LK Advani attempted that with Bal Thackeray. But while it suited Balasaheb to ally with the BJP and maximise the Shiv Sena’s electoral gains (which otherwise were not moving beyond one MLA at a time every election), he was by far too astute to get embroiled in the BJP’s shenanigans and pay a price for a mis-step that never was his.

For example, he never insisted on a temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid but rather a school or a hospital in its place. He stuck to that view despite saffron leaders calling him a “vivekheen Hindu” because, firstly, he realised how the BJP had attempted to crucify him overthe Babri Masjid demolitionand, more importantly, he knew that the BJP would always need him more electorallythan the other way round.

Thackeray had earlier played along with the BJP’s avowal that it was Shiv Sainiks who had brought down the Babri Masjid because he thought that would help to consolidate his own vote bank and so he laid claim to the demolition with pride. But he always knew that that was a falsehood generated by the BJP which knew very well how the legal consequences for its leadership would play out if they admitted to their role in the demolition.

But when Thackeray found himself getting into trouble, he quickly backtracked, denying the Shiv Sena had ever been involved and showering colourful abuse on the heads of the top BJP leadership for not having the courage to own up to their crime.

Thackeray had realised by then that all that the BJP wanted of the Shiv Sena was to limit the electoral damage that its independent presence in the field would cause the BJP by splitting the saffron vote and that it needed some rabble rousers from among the Shiv Sena ranks so that they may fob off the activities of their own Bajrang Dalis on to Shiv Sainiks who would then go to jail while the Bajrang Dal -- which was the organisation that brought down the mosque – went scot-free.

This was a strategy hatched between Mahajan and Advani and it explains why Uddhav Thackeray today hates the BJP so much – there is a whole history to that attitude much beyond the failure of today’s leaders of the BJP to keep their promise to him to give the Shiv Sena a shot at the chief minister’s office.

Now there are two aspects to the BJP’s continuing need of the Shiv Sena. They still need some rabble rousers. Which they have found in Raj Thackeray who doesn’t threaten their vote bank. And they need to either get the Shiv Sena back on board or destroy it completely to limit the division of their votes. For Maharashtra still has only two parties that go down to the grassroots --the Congress (which is why the Nationalist Congress Partycannot break away from it as it tried and had to return) and the Shiv Sena, which also the BJP tried to destroy by breaking its alliance in 2014 but couldn’t, and had to eat a humble pie by seeking to re-ally both in government and at the next elections in 2019.

With the Jahangirpuri incidents in New Delhi and the commonality of the azaan issue in so many states where the BJP is either ruling or trying to overthrow the current dispensation to get back into power, it is clear that Fadnavis has tried to step into Mahajan’s shoes and make use of Raj Thackeray to generate riots in Mumbai and Maharashtra, the way the BJP had done with Bal Thackeray in 1992-93 – the Srikrishna Commission report is clear on how Advani set the atmosphere with his incendiary speechesand Thackeray stepped into that ‘burning cauldron like a general leading his troops’.

But while Thackeray managed to escape retribution for his role in the riots essentially because the ruling Congress then recognised how any reprisal, even if justly deserved, might consolidate his vote bank, Fadnavis probably recognises Raj Thackeray does not have that loyal army of workers none of who will be willing to lay their lives down for him as they would have for his more illustrious uncle.

Raj is a political cipher today mainly because his close supporters flatly refuse to jeopardise their business interests (they are builders, shopkeepers, small entrepreneurs et al) for his politics and so his support base comprises mostly the political vagrants who have no place in any other party and largely only seeking some political weight for themselves. They jump as quick as they can to other partiesand don’t listen to him at all.

That was tried and tested in 2019 when despite his exhortations to his workersto vote against the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, they still voted for the dhanush-baan (the Sena symbol of bow and arrow) and benefited the BJP. If they continue to vote for the dhanush-baan,the disadvantage this time will be the BJP’s. But if Raj’s campaign over the azaan is successful – which it will not be given the determination of the authorities in Maharashtrato prevent any conflagration – the BJP thinks it might succeed in consolidating the votes it has lost through its split with the Shiv Sena.

However, both Fadnavis and Raj need originality and attempting to ape Thackeray and Mahajan’s strategies from the 1980s and 1990s is unlikely to get them anywhere in the modern century. Much has been made of Raj’s impending visits to Ayodhya and Aurangabad but the MNS is not winning any seats in Aurangabad, and Ayodhya is now a BJP bastion which has no need of a Thackeray or a Sena anymore.

But, yes, the BJP continues to need scapegoats for its own violent activities (like against the alleged Bangladeshi or Rohingya Muslims in New Delhi). And there is no better sacrificial goat than Raj Thackeray with no friends in government who would come to his aid as they had with his uncle over the years.

Raj Thackeray thus is now a mere puppet on a string - first Sharad Pawar’s in 2019 and now Fadnavis’s, lending himself to whoever offers him resources for survival without much political conviction.

What is such a puppet called in common discourse?

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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