Eye on Maharashtra: BJP, Bal Thackeray and 'Dhokha'!

There are reasons for Uddhav Thackeray being less trustful of the BJP than his father and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, who was betrayed more than once by 'old friends'

Eye on Maharashtra: BJP, Bal Thackeray and 'Dhokha'!

Sujata Anandan

Gullible is not a word I would have associated with Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

Shiv Sena watchers have been rather flummoxed this past week about why Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray described his father thus though the word he actually used was “bhole” in Marathi. But that too is a word that does not sit well on Balasaheb because he was neither naive nor an innocent politician. He was as shrewd as they come and that is why the Shiv Sena is the singular regional party, barring the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, that underwent several changes of leadership, to have survived under just one leader and stayed relevant through all the political upheavals in the country. Thackeray could always spot a swing in the mood of the people much ahead of others and thus always stayed abreast of everybody else.

But what Balasaheb was – and I believe this is what Uddhav Thackeray meant – is that he remained true and loyal to a friend and couldn't care less how his friendship affected his politics. That is how he dealt with the Congress during the time of Mrs Indira Gandhi, making sure his party did not contest the 1980 election that might have prevented her comeback. That is how he dealt with Sharad Pawar, an old-time personal friend, making sure his daughter Supriya Sule got elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha the first time she contested, preventing the BJP from putting up any candidate against her. And that is how he dealt with the BJP pulling out all stops to make sure it succeeded in its Hindutva agenda.

So why did Uddhav describe his father as “bhola” now? It is because while both Congress under Mrs Gandhi and Pawar were duly respectful of him in the past and gave him his space during his lifetime, BJP always tried to cut him to size even while using him as a stepping stone.

Bal Thackeray resented the BJP using him and then trying to throw him to the dogs. For example, Shiv Sainiks were never present in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid was demolished. Yet knowing the consequences of that criminal act during the Congress regime, the BJP tried to push the blame on to the Shiv Sena. And knowing full well the facts of the case, Thackeray accepted the blame because he thought it would enhance his own Hindutva politics.

Credulous? Simplistic? Perhaps Uddhav is right about the ‘bhola’ bit. For it is only when Thackeray began to get into trouble with the courts that he retracted and called the BJP all sorts of names for not having the guts to own up to their crime. Thackeray should have known what the BJP was up to but failed to see through the larger game plan.

But he did succeed in bringing the then senior BJP leaders, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani to heel on more than one occasion. Never having had anyone as charismatic as Bal Thackeray in their party ranks – Narendra Modi would come much after Balasaheb – they were made to go down on their knees to Thackeray every time they attempted to cut him down to size. But both Thackeray’s and their resentment for each other only grew at each political twist and turn.

Perhaps the greatest of the two betrayals by the BJP of Bal Thackeray was when the 13-day Vajpayee government in 1996 reinstated the Srikrishna Commission, dismissed in 1995 by the Shiv Sena government, probing the 1992-93 riots in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. Thackeray was not even informed of the reversal of the decision. He was rendered speechless and took considerable time to recover.

The second betrayal was when Advani as union home minister provided the Congress-led government in Maharashtra central security and paramilitary forces to effect a smooth arrest of Bal Thackeray for his involvement in the riots (a riot engineered by him in the first place) – the Srikrishna Commission had by then indicted Thackeray for the same. Only a magistrate declaring the cases time-barred saved him from the arrest.

So the Shiv Sena’s relationship with the BJP has never been harmonious and the resentment that Uddhav Thackeray has for the BJP today is not of recent origin. The foundation for this enmity was laid by the old timers in the BJP pretending friendship while all the time attempting to destroy Bal Thackeray and stab him in the back.

So, yes, Uddhav Thackeray is right in saying he is more shrewd than his father because he spotted the attempts by the BJP’s leaders, old and new, to destroy his father’s party long before Thackeray did in his lifetime, continuing to believe solely in the power of his charisma to override all perils.

The BJP tried to sow the wind onto Bal Thackeray. Not surprisingly, it is having to reap the whirlwind vis-à-vis Uddhav Thackeray. Devendra Fadnavis, Nitin Gadkari and Raj Thackeray, even then used by them against his cousin, have all tried to ride that wind even during Bal Thackeray’s lifetime. It is no surprise they are being blown away by that very same wind.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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