Legacy of Mumbai Tiger

WITH Balasaheb Thackeray’s death, the politics of Mumbai would not be the same. Speculations were triggered by frequent visits of Mr Raj Thackeray to the Shiv Sena chief’s residence during the past few weeks that the patriarch could be trying to bring back his nephew to join the Sena and both he and Mr Uddhav Thackeray could work together again to carry the torch of Marathi manoos passed on by him.

As it turned out, Mr Raj Thackeray’s visits had nothing to do with any such family negotiations but with family emotions. After all, Mr Raj Thackeray owed his rise to the supremo. He showed in himself better qualities of emotional oratory and organising skills than the supremo’s son, Mr Uddhav Thackeray did. But with Mr Uddhav Thackeray assuming a central role in making strategies and decisions, next only to his father, Mr Raj Thackeray found himself losing importance, and decided to chart out his own course.

And he adopted the policies of Shiv Sena and went about organising his outfit, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, veritably as a man who was committed to pursue Balasaheb style of politics after Balasaheb. Now the time has come for his trial. Mr Uddhav Thackeray, other factors notwithstanding, is a direct successor to Balasaheb, who was a direct successor to his father who was the originator of the Marathi manoos politics. Mr Balasaheb was anointed publicly as his successor by his father. So was Mr Uddhav Thackeray by Balasaheb. It is beyond doubt that the majority of members and sympathisers of Shiv Sena would stick to Mr Uddhav Thackeray.

He faces a major challenge from Mr Raj Thackeray, no doubt, and it is hard to tell how future will shape up for either of them. Both run risks not only from each other but also from the emerging trends in politics in Maharashtra. The type of politics Balasaheb pursued had found, beginning with the 1960s, a ready constituency in Maharashtrian segments of Mumbai population who nursed a deep sense of deprivation owing to occupation of even lower spaces by migrants from other states. Mumbai had emerged as a port city during the British days, where businessmen, professionals, office assistants and even labourers had gravitated as opportunities grew. But the largest section of labourers came from those parts of Maharashtra where rain-fed agricultural fields did not produce enough to engage in employment or feed all the residents. Then there were people from around Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra who also came to the city in search of office jobs or to do small business, even hawking. They formed the ready constituency of Balasaheb Thackeray.

However, much of the ground was prepared by the industrial and mercantile employers who did not think far ahead to employ a significant number of Maharashtrians as a matter of policy. Jobs in their establishments were held by migrants from other states mostly, which provided the spark. Balasaheb Thackeray made employment of locals a key thrust of his politics. Demonstrations and rallies were organised and addressed by him, threatening to close down the establishments if they did not employ adequate number of Marathi manoos. Setting the trend for his peculiar style of politics, Balasaheb incited mobs of his workers and sympathisers to attack establishments and senior executives in order to strike fear in their hearts. They recruited a number of Maharashtrians, in order to avoid being attacked.

That was Balasaheb’s style of politics: he did not just air grievances on behalf of the Marathi manoos, he did not just submit memorandums, he did not just organise demonstrations: he followed these up with attacks. The difference between other parties and Shiv Sena was that it backed its demands with the power of the mob. Balasaheb believed that the most effective way of getting government or private authorities, institutions or individuals, to concede his demand was mob violence. This kind of violence did not seek to take anyone’s life; it limited itself to ransacking, vandalizing, shattering things and roughing up; but it had its effect. People feared Sena. Everybody learnt to respect Sena out of fear. Everybody would do their bidding.

But Balasaheb did not survive just on that. Much like most extremists in parliamentary politics, he had his secret pacts with powers whose patronage he needed to protect himself. No matter who was the chief minister of Maharashtra, he never went out full blast against Balasaheb. None of them ever worked on a plan to rid Mumbai of the patently violent organisation, despite the fact that under no regime did the Sena stop indulging in violence because that was the only way it could sustain and grow itself.

There are no signs that either Mr Uddhav Thackeray or Mr Raj Thackeray is going to pursue any different kind of politics. They will keep up the aggressive traditions to sustain and spread themselves and strike up secret pacts with powers to survive. But just who will do it better, only time can tell.