Eye on Maharashtra: Rattled by a ‘snake’?

If Modi is a lion, Uddhav is now clearly the tiger. If the BJP is a snake, he too holds a lathi in his hands as chief minister of Maharashtra

Eye on Maharashtra: Rattled by a ‘snake’?

Sujata Anandan

Uddhav Thackeray, unlike his father Balasaheb Thackeray, was never given to intemperate language. There was always a bite to his humour, like when he promised to have all the flowers in Mumbai woven into a giant wreath and sent to Sonia Gandhi to condole with the Congress if his estranged sister-in-law Smita Thackeray ever made good on her threat to join the Congress if the Shiv Sena denied her a ticket to the Assembly elections. Or when he said he was saved by Raj Thackeray’s voluntary exit from the Sena, or else he would have got bad press for saving his party from being hollowed out from within by his cousin.

“Better he be lauded for breaking the Sena than I be pilloried for saving my party,” he had added tongue-incheek. There have been many more gems in similar fashion.

That is why I was somewhat baffled when last week he described the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a “saapacha pilla”– the spawn of a snake – that the Sena had fed milk to for over 25 years and which was now trying to strike the party with its tail. “We know very well how to crush such snakes,” he added on the eve of the budget session of the Maharashtra Assembly last week.

Obviously, the Shiv Sena and the MVA are upset by the use of central agencies to cow down their government and Uddhav Thackeray put the BJP on notice that they will not tolerate such nonsense any more. The BJP has accused Nawab Malik, a minister arrested by the Enforcement Directorate, of dealing with an aide of notorious don Dawood Ibrahim, but now the chief minister has challenged the ruling party at the Centre to arrest Dawood, “if you have the guts”.

The Shiv Sena, having been in power with the BJP at the height of Dawood’s nefarious activities in Mumbai in the mid-1990s, Uddhav Thackeray is not unaware of how difficult it might be to accomplish that task and the BJP would only lose face both ways whether or not it is able to accomplish that arrest.

BJP does not help its case by spreading rumours of a secret deal with the Shiv Sena to get together with the party again. Neither its younger state leaders nor its central leadership seems to be aware of the extent of Uddhav Thackeray’s distrust of the BJP which precedes the Narendra Modi era and goes back to the times of L.K. Advani when the latter had attempted to decimate the Shiv Sena while pretending a friendship with Bal Thackeray, yet ceding no ground to the latter’s demands.

The first instance of distrust pertains to the 1998 Lok Sabha elections when Thackeray demanded an exchange of some seats with the BJP from the previous elections but was completely ignored by Advani. An enraged Thackeray then went off on his own to campaign in Aurangabad and told his voters, “This time we must teach Kamalabai a lesson.”

BJP leaders were in no doubt about what he had meant, the kamal (lotus) being their party symbol. Moreover,they were wholly aware that Sena voters voted only for Bal Thackeray and would obligingly vote for the Congress if he said so without asking any questions.

Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde hurried to his residence Matoshree to make up but Balasaheb was in no mood to relent. He even made Advani cool his heels for two days, pretending to be indisposed, until they had urged Atal Bihari Vajpayee to arrive to make an appeal in person. But then Thackeray extracted his pound of flesh and the BJP was left sorrier.

But it is the next transgression by Advani that nailed the coffin and Uddhav, or even his father in his life time, were never able to get over it. When the Congress-NCP came to power in Maharashtra in 1999, they attempted to make Thackeray pay for inciting riots in Mumbai in 1992-93 by his incendiary writings in his party mouthpiece, Saamana. Thackeray was shocked that Advani, who was then Union Home Minister,should have co-operated with the Congress in facilitating a smooth arrest and had provided whole platoons of central security forces without even informing the Sena chief what was afoot.

Fortunately, a lower court dismissed the case against Thackeray as time-barred and he did hot have to face the ignominy of a second arrest in his life time (the first was in 1969 again for inciting riots over the Belgaum issue and Thackeray had hated the experience).

It seems strange but both Thackeray and his son forgave the Congress and even voted for Pratibha Patil and then Pranab Mukherjee to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Their reasoning was that the Congress had sworn to arrest him and so did nothing wrong by attempting to make true in its promise. But the BJP was supposed to be a friend and ally on the same side of the political divide and, far from trying to stop the state government, actually helped it to facilitate the arrest.

That is why Uddhav Thackeray now refers to the BJP as a snake that was fed milk by his party and is attempting to bite the hand that fed it. Narendra Modi has done nothing to regain the Shiv Sena’s confidence while the Congress and the NCP have left past grudges behind and helped the Sena to a position where Uddhav Thackeray can be confident of crushing the BJP.

This is clearly not the end of the story. Uddhav has bared his claws and the snake may or may not be defanged. If Modi is a lion, Uddhav is now clearly the tiger. If the BJP is a snake, he too holds a lathi in his hands as chief minister of Maharashtra. I expect a bitter fight to the finish.

(Sujata Anandan is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai)

(Views are personal)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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