Nov 1, 2008

Comment on Raj Thackeray Politics

Most of M a h a r a s h t r a Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray’s business associates are non-Marathis. His confidante, Sunil Harshe, is based in Dubai, looking after Raj’s vast business interests in the UAE. Both Thackeray’s children are at English-medium schools. His son, who entered college this year, chose to study German instead of Marathi. When Thackeray was part of the Shiv Sena, he would often oblige non-Marathi contractors looking for work with the Sena-controlled Mumbai municipal corporation. Thackeray also smokes the best imported cigarettes and sips high-end Scotch and cognac. He loves to drive a Mercedes or Pajero and is a charming host even if his guests don’t speak Marathi. Raj Thackeray is the most cosmopolitan Mumbaikar one could meet at Shivaji Park, where he lives in an elegant penthouse.

Raj appears to be following in the footsteps of his uncle, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. But there is a crucial difference. In the sixties and seventies, Thackeray senior accused south Indians of robbing Marathis of jobs in banks, the insurance sector and elsewhere. It was a rant with a reason. The Maharashtrian middle class faced a very real problem. Over the years, the Shiv Sena took corrective steps to recruit lakhs of Marathis to large organizations. Thackeray senior’s protest had a political sub-text. At the instigation of the ruling Congress, it was meant to strike at the communists who were controlling many trade unions in the metropolis.
The nephew is marching to a different drummer. Raj has had virtually to invent an enemy — the hapless bhaiyya. First and most important, there just aren’t many jobs available in the commercial capital of India facing recession. Migrants to Mumbai work in sweatshops; drive cabs and autos. They are not a major threat to unemployed sons-of-the-soil.

Raj’s outbursts have a political background. The state’s Democratic Front government comprises Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). But as Shiv Sena executive president and Raj’s bete noire, Uddhav Thackeray, says, the government is a non-performing one. He has consistently evoked an excellent response on his extensive tours of the state’s different districts precisely because he lambasts the state government for its ‘‘failure on every front.’’ The government has not added a single MW to the state’s power generation capacity. Maharashtra is facing a 5,500-MW shortage of power. Fuel shortage means the mega power plant at Dabhol on the Konkan coast hardly produces any electricity at all. Hundreds of farmers in Vidarbha’s cotton belt continue to commit suicide. Maharashtra’s infrastructure is almost, but not quite, on a par with Bihar.