Thuggery means always having to say sorry

Raj Thackeray is a chip off the old block, yet another one-trick pony from the Sena stable, writes Namita Bhandare.

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Hum UP ke log hain, hume Hindi mein baat karni chahiye

Jaya Bachchan at the promotion of Drona in Mumbai.

If you are from Delhi, then why have you come to Maharashtra?
– Bal Thackeray to Shah Rukh Khan in an editorial in Saamna

Actress and Rajya Sabha MP (Samajwadi Party) Jaya Bachchan’s apparently casual remark sparked off a furore, with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) declaring a boycott of all Bachchan films unless the actress apologised for ‘insulting’ the people of Maharashtra. With three Bachchan films due to be released over the next few weeks, Jaya Bachchan lost no time in saying how very sorry she was. No good, said Raj. The apology would have to be at a public forum in the presence of the Marathi media. It’s over to Mrs Bachchan now.

Big Blogger Mr Bachchan, meanwhile, has ‘humbly and in servility’ clarified that no disrespect was meant at all: his wife’s maids are Maharashtrian and she speaks to them in fluent Marathi. They can never dishonour the state, they have numerous causes they support etc. Until Jaya Bachchan opened her mouth to speak (in Hindi), Raj Thackeray had been busy issuing ultimatums to Mumbai shopkeepers to install signboards in Marathi. The Marathi signboards, he warned, had to be bigger than those in other languages.

In 2006, a very private family rift became a very public political falling out as Raj fell out with his uncle Bal Thackeray (the original architect of the Marathi asmita idea in the 1960s, except that he was bashing South not North Indians). Based on his experience in the Shiv Sena, Raj probably knew that there’s nothing like a bit of thuggery as the fastest way to making headlines. In February this year, he repackaged his uncle’s old strategy with a new cast of characters from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar playing the bad guys. The MNS stormtroopers went on a rampage beating up taxi-drivers for celebrating such ‘outsider’ festivals like Chhat Puja in Mumbai.

Raj Thackeray’s antics ensured angry responses from rail minister Lalu Yadav and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, as well as the Samajwadi Party’s Amar Singh, who, is ‘like a brother’ to Amitabh Bachchan. So, now Raj had a new target. Why was Amitabh Bachchan promoting Uttar Pradesh when it was Mumbai which given him fame and money, he asked? Amitabh invoked the Indian Constitution and said he had the right to live and work wherever he chose while Jaya was more dismissive: who is this Raj Thackeray, she asked? She knew only Bal (who was like a father to her) and his son, Uddhav.

Dragging the Bachchans into the Marathi debate has been a clever strategy by Raj. Now, not only is Raj hijacking the Shiv Sena’s Marathi plank (months ahead of the Assembly polls), he is also trying to see if his uncle will buckle when ‘outsiders’ like his good friends, the Bachchans are under attack.

But Bal Thackeray, experienced enough to know how to wriggle out of a tight corner, declared in a piece in Saamna that Amitabh Bachchan does not belong to any region or language but to the entire nation. Shah Rukh Khan, on the other hand, is a Dilliwala: “You come to Maharashtra to earn fame and wealth but once you have had your fill, then you will evoke the name of the region from where you came from, and Marathi people are expected not to utter a word.”

With one editorial, the Sena has taken a swipe at Bachchan’s rival-in-chief and also made it clear that it is not about to give up its Marathi pride plank. Shah Rukh is reportedly close to the Congress party and the younger Gandhis (with whom the Bachchans have since fallen out over their friendship with Mulayam and Co; never mind that the SP and Congress seem to be getting cosy these days). That’s Indian politics for you. And safe to say, you haven’t heard the last word on this one yet.