Thursday, 14 February 2008

Everybody Loves A Good Farce

  Everybody Loves A Good Farce

Raj Thackeray must be pleased, as would be MNS, SP and, particularly, the Congress. All of them came out a 'winner', except the city of Mumbai and the families of those who suffered. First in that list is the family of an unsuspecting 52-year-old from Nashik.

SMRUTI KOPPIKAR Raj Thackeray may have gone home pleased tonight, pleased that the script turned out quite the way he wanted it, with himself as a hero for disgruntled Marathi youth. But this new hero has blood on his hands, ironically the blood of a Maharashtrian. Even as his arrest and released-on-bail drama was being played out in a tense but edgy Mumbai, an unsuspecting 52-year-old Ambadas Dharao was killed by a stone hurled at him by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) activists in Nashik. Dharao was returning home in the staff bus of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited when the activists, enraged at the arrest and determined to display their 'strength', began throwing stones and setting public transport vehicles on fire. Nashik was among the worst hit cities at the end of a tense Wednesday. Pune, Nagpur, Latur were also affected as were various parts of Mumbai.
Would Raj Thackeray have spared a thought for the hapless Dharao and his distraught family? How can Raj Thackeray ever justify his 'boys' taking a Maharashtrian life, any life, to uphold the cause of Maharashtrians? How, indeed, does Raj Thackeray justify the weeks of endless tension, slander campaigns, vicious words, malicious actions that he and his 'boys' indulged in to justify anything at all? A script that he did not begin writing has propped him up as a hero, bestowed on him the larger-than-life halo he always desired, and turned his fledgling party's political fortunes. But in his moment of political triumph--Raj Thackeray now has a national political profile--would he have the mindspace to reflect upon his words and actions of the last few weeks? He can now boast an identity other than that of being Bal Thackeray's estranged nephew, he can cite his cause in place of a well-deliberated ideology, but most of all, he can now claim to have suffered an arrest to uphold the cause of Marathi identity or "asmita". Raj Thackeray would love to be anointed the spokesperson of all things Maharashtrian, never mind his ageing uncle.
Scores of Marathi-speaking people have hesitatingly approved of his cause but disparaged his methods. They believe, rightly or otherwise, he is speaking their thoughts when he says that Uttar Bharatiyas--migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar--are an impediment in the progress of Maharashtrians particularly in Mumbai. Even so, many such Maharashtrians do not approve of taking lives to press that claim. That his methods, mimicking those of his uncles' 40-year-old ones, may not get him brownie points. At some point in his political career, Ambadas Dharao's death may come back to haunt him but right now, Raj Thackeray has reached a high that he himself would not have imagined in November 2005 when he announced to the world that he was quitting his beloved uncle's Shiv Sena.
No wonder then that he wanted to be arrested, that he dared the state government to arrest him, that he reiterated last Saturday all that he had been saying last few weeks. When asked if the poor man on the street--Uttar Bharatiya panwalla, taxi driver and so on--suffered even as he joined fight with Amar Singh and Abu Asim Azmi of the Samajwadi Party, Raj has this to say: "What bichara [loosely, helpless], who bichara? This same bichara man goes to the rallies and chat pujas to show his strength, isn't it? How then is he a bichara? Besides, when two countries go to war and two generals fight, it's generally the soldier who dies. This is inevitable." Shorn of pomposity, it translates as: there's nothing wrong if the poor man on the street has to pay with his life for my cause, it is bound to happen. To many, it would sound callous. For Raj, it's part being a toughie.
To wit, Abu Asim Azmi played along in a rather coordinated manner to provide Raj with the counterpoint that he was desperately looking for in this script, and also to resurrect his own political career.Azmi is not new to controversies. Like Raj, he too thrives on contrarian points of view, incendiary language and outlandish claims. With Amar Singh as his boss, and perhaps chief guide this time, Azmi's public discourse with Raj touched a new nadir. If Raj had to be arrested for his words and actions, Azmi too would have had to face similar treatment though his words--provocative as they were--could not be directly linked to violence anywhere. When the Mumbai police moved in for the kill Wednesday evening and picked up both, Azmi was pleased with himself too. It meant another shot at a political career that has been on the downslide. As Amar Singh screamed out, it meant the SP could try its luck again in Mumbai.
In many ways then, Raj Thackeray and Abu Asim Azmi seem like two peas in a pod, two faces of the same phenomenon, two utterly self-absorbed small-time politicians who will happily build and re-build their careers over dead men and spilt blood. No wonder then they fed off one another for over a fortnight. But as many Mumbaikars say, Azmi cannot claim to speak for all Uttar Bharatiyas or even those from UP just as Raj Thackeray cannot claim to be spokesperson of all Maharashtrians. Who then does Mayawati speak for? And whom does the Shiv Sena represent? Mumbai became the battleground for identity politics to play out.
In allowing Raj and Azmi a free run over the last two weeks, the state government helped them become heroes. In the farcical drama of arrests and bail that played out Wednesday evening, if both Raj and Azmi walked away satisfied, so did the government. The Congress-NCP government "showed", however unwillingly, that it meant business this time when its home minister RR Patil spoke of the law taking its course. Patil and chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh "proved" to whoever it mattered that they could "act" tough with those breaking the law. Act, they certainly did. In the process, they earned a few pats on their backs from their party bosses, showed they were not cowed down by empty threats issued by the likes of Raj and Azmi, and picked up extra points for not letting Mumbai burn during the drama. It's a different matter, though, that the First Information Report, filed as belatedly as it was, ensured that the charges levelled would not stick, and that the bail could easily be organised.
Politically, the Congress must have loved every moment of the drama, for as Raj's heroic status grew, his ability to impact and wean away the Marathi vote from the Shiv Sena multiplied. To the extent that the Sena--and with it the BJP--weakens, there's one less factor for the Congress to worry about in the 2009 general and state assembly election.
In the end, it's all about politics and who got what in the bargain. In this drama, all the protagonists came out a 'winner', except the city of Mumbai and the families of those who suffered. First in that list is the Dharao family from Nashik.

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