Eye on Maharashtra: The grand failures of Raj Thackeray

Some years ago, as I watched Raj Thackeray live on television. I was enlightened by a very disapproving comment from a Maharashtrian lady visiting us

Eye on Maharashtra: The grand failures of Raj Thackeray

Sujata Anandan

He is always angry and shouting at someone or the other. But what does he accomplish?” Absently, I remarked, “Yes, he is a chip off the old block. Just like his uncle.”

“Oh, no,” she swiftly responded. ”Bal Thackeray got us something. Raj Thackeray only looks and talks like him but he is just a gas balloon that soon runs out of air from time to time.”

That remark made a few years ago is so close to what Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar said about him recently, that it is worth considering why this look-alike nephew of Bal Thackeray is today such a grand failure.

At his annual Gudi Padwa address to his supporters, Raj Thackeray raged against aazans from mosques, threatening to play the Hanuman Chalisa loudly from near the mosques if the Maharashtra government did not stop the loud aazans immediately, thus holding out the threat of a potential riot in the city. And he accused Sharad Pawar of dividing Maharashtrian society on the basis of castes (read Pawar’s opposition to Devendra Fadnavis who is a Brahmin).

Pawar, of course, disdained to respond by stating Raj comes out from some mouse-hole every three or four months, lets loose a volley of meaningless statements and disappears into the hole again, so replying to him is not worthy of any consideration. Pawar articulated it better than the lady who thought he just had angry words with no real achievements but I think she cut closer to the bone.

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that Raj Thackeray is no original, only a weak copy of his uncle every which way. He banked on his physical resemblance to his uncle and the similarity of their baritones to persuade people to see him as the true heir to the Shiv Sena legacy. But despite the starting advantages he has failed for many reasons, not the least his rudeness to Shiv Sena leaders close to his uncle who got together to marginalise him, his sheer arrogance and his devotion to personal pleasures rather than hard work on the campaign trail or otherwise. Before he knew it Raj Thackeray was out of the reckoning with Bal Thackeray and was left with little choice but to split the party. But why he did not succeed in building up the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena as an alternative to the Shiv Sena is again a story of lack of originality, lack of focus, more interest in pursuing personal agendas and a complete disenchantment with him of those who had seen him as an alternative to his uncle but then decided his cousin Uddhav Thackeray was a better bet for the future.

Bal Thackeray could always demand loyalty from his Shiv Sainiks and get it. That is because he also always stood by them if they got into trouble executing the Shiv Sena’s earlier violent agenda, unlike Raj who demanded they beat up Muslims and north Indian migrants, burn auto rickshaws and taxis of Uttar Bharatiyas and then, like Pawar said, disappeared into his cubby hole leaving them to face the consequences all alone.

Soon he had no workers willing to implement his diktats and when during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections he took on Narendra Modi – at the behest of Sharad Pawar, one suspects - asking his supporters to vote for the Congress and NCP, no one listened. According to several people I spoke to at the time, Raj had simply given them no reason to vote against the Shiv Sena other than its alliance with the BJP which was led by a man who , Raj said, routinely lied and exaggerated. Raj’s exposè of Modi was fun while it lasted but when it came to the polling booth, “our finger automatically strayed to the bow and arrow (the Shiv Sena symbol),” they said – they felt they were betraying Bal Thackeray by voting for the Congress-NCP.

Yet these very Shiv Sainiks would vote for that very Congress whenever Bal Thackeray asked them to without questioning or asking for reasons. Obviously, Raj Thackeray never could command similar blind devotion.

But that is also because of his many flip-flops over the years that has confused his voters. Was he really anti-North Indian? Then how come his closest advisors were Uttar Bharatiya? Was he really anti-Muslim? Then why did he not take up against them when the Maharashtra government gave the community a five percent reservation in 2014? Was he ever pro-Marathi manoos? Then why were all his business dealings benefiting Gujaratis and dishousing Maharashtrians?

But what has been the worst case of betrayal for his supporters is his exposè of himself as not a tiger, not even a pussy cat but a mere mouse which has been unable to squeak ever since the Enforcement Directorate was unleashed on him. Sharad Pawar evoked his Maratha pride when the ED thought to finger him but Raj Thackeray fell silent not only disappointing people at his lack of courage but also leading them to suspect that he might have had something to hide.

Now they are equally unconvinced about his rage against loudspeakers at the mosques. It is clearly a BJP-driven agenda and even in his responses there is nothing original. In the aftermath of the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992-93, Bal Thackeray at the behest of the BJP had driven his Shiv Sainiks to do maha-aartis at all Hanuman temples located near mosques every Friday by loud clanging of the temple bells. No one had ever heard of a maha-aarti like that before and in any case Friday had never been the day to invoke Lord Hanuman, so that campaign soon fell by the wayside. Now MNS workers are playing safe by running the Hanuman Chalisa not at Mohammad Ali Road or Behrampada with Muslim-majority populations but at Ghatkopar and Chembur where the loud chants only disturb the peace of other Hindus that quite defeats their purpose. Social media has been full of mockery and the backlash has quite taken the MNS aback.

While his cousin Uddhav Thacieray is battling the BJP’s use of the central agencies against his kith and kin with clear defiance and a ‘catch me if you can’ attitude, just like that of Sharad Pawar’s earlier, Raj has obviously chosen to play it safe by allowing the BJP to use him as a pawn for their own gains. No tiger or even a roaring lion, this Thackeray - just a Fraidy-cat, frightened of his own skin, that’s taken years to be thus exposed.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

(Views are personal)

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