A few years back, post Dhirubhai Ambani’s demise, when Mukesh and Anil decided to part ways, a story went viral in business circles. The folklore was that the Ambani brothers split was part of the strategy to spread the wings wider, diversify into more businesses through strategic tie-ups and emerge as a global conglomerate. How much of that was true and how much Ambani brothers have succeeded is a matter of speculation. But two other brothers, from the same city of Mumbai, Raj and Uddhav, not in business, but in politics are also working on the same strategy. And to some success, one must say.
On 11th November 2019, Uddhav Thackeray broke the 30 year old alliance with BJP and decided to have a truck with NCP-Congress. Given BJP’s dominant position as the Hindu vote Party, this move meant potentially endangering its Hindu vote. Guess what happens next. Within 3 weeks, the ‘estranged’ brother Raj Thackeray relaunches his party with a new flag. Clearly to catch the vote dropped by the elder brother. I was very clear then, that Sharad Pawar is using both the Thackeray brothers to forge an alliance against BJP. But such was the shock amongst fellow Hindutvawadis, at a Hindutvawadi party leaving the alliance, that I was attacked viciously. The same experts are now astounded at Raj Thackeray’s transgressions.
Almost exactly 6 months to the date, since Raj relaunched MNS as an out-an-out Hindu party, he has made another ‘U’ turn. And done it when Covid-19 has ravaged Mumbai badly, and a human tragedy of unknown proportions is unfolding. On 26th May he sent out these two tweets
Also, this hideous (featured) image was released in the media.
Along with Raj and Uddhav’s earlier actions, you look at these in unison and a pattern emerges. The first tweet which has a statement attached, basically says that Migrant Workers will not be ‘Allowed’ to travel back and work in Maharashtra. How can Raj allow anyone in or out of Maharashtra? He is not an elected member of any constitutional or legal body. He’s not even a corporator. Does he holds any extra-constitutional powers like Sonia Gandhi held when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister? Now anyone who’s aware of Shiv Sena’s history also knows what they are capable of. Before joining electoral politics (and for a while even after that) Shiv Sena was notorious for targeting South Indians. It was also known for collecting ransom from roadside vendors. And though MNS a different party, it has copied elder brother’s party’s to a tee. The only difference is, it has hounded North Indians. Now when Raj says he’s not going to allow outsiders, it gives license to his hoodlums to ‘Allow’ some vendors to set roadside shops. We all know why and how they will be allowed. And with the elder brother in power who’s going to stop MNS bullies?
The second tweet is even more dangerous and downright unconstitutional. And actually the nub of the anger of regional parties like, SS,MNS & NCP against BJP lies here.BJP owes its rise as much to Hindutva as much to Migrant votes. Raj wants to stop these ‘Outsiders’ from voting in Maharashtra! Can you believe that? All these poor laborers and small vendors have registered as voters here. Raj wants to take this supreme Constitutional Right away from them. And listen to the silence from Liberal quarters. It’s deafening! Now recall the noise made by opposition parties to bring back manual voting? It makes perfect sense. Parties like MNS and Shiv Sena can stop North Indians from voting. They will be ‘Allowed’ to stay in Mumbai only if they don’t vote. Their vote will be cast in the old Lalu Prasad style system.
The third item released on the same day is absolutely revolting. A man resembling Raj is seen slapping a bald man in Saffron robes. Only 6 months back MNS changed its flag to full saffron. In such a short time it has to come to slap a man in Saffron! What’s it trying to communicate? Is it Raj who’s slapping Yogi Adityanath? Yogi Adityanath is not only a CM. Before that he was (and still is) Mahant of Goraknath Math. Politics at its own place. But why show a man in Saffron robes being slapped? Isn’t Raj aware of respect Hindu society has towards Sadhus? Let us give benefit of doubt to Raj / MNS and say the man in Saffron is not Yogi Adityanath. So who’s the man in the image being slapped? Or this image betrays MNS chief and it’s party cadre’s feeling towards Sadhus & Mahant community as such? In that case, it’s for voters of Maharashtra to judge how much ‘Saffron’ this party is with a ‘Saffron’ flag.
Look at this from another angle. Law and Order situation in Maharashtra is precarious. 3 Hindu Sadhus have been killed in less than 45 days. Two in Palghar and one in Nanded. Through this image, is Raj Thackeray condoning these lynchings?
BJP’s rise as principal Hindu vote party has reduced regional parties to fringe players. And hence this wrestling for political relevance and machinations by these parties. All parties are within their rights to vie for political space. But to use the Corona crisis to launch a tirade against migrant laborers or Yogi Adityanath is cheap politics at its worst. This will only inflame the passion amongst commoners and will push the situation to the brink.
It’s quite clear that once corona infections subside, migrants from UP, MP and Bihar will return to Mumbai. If Shiv Sena and MNS continue to attack these Migrants and deny them their legitimate rights such as, an opportunity to earn livelihood or vote, it will be met with equal resistance. Obviously throwing Mumbai’s public life into turmoil. If regional parties do not stop the politics of social brinkmanship, India’s financial capital and the country itself will face the worst financial and social consequences.