“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
This quote is attributed to an English writer of another century known widely for his satirical works, most importantly Vanity Fair, and whose surname is unwittingly shared by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief. While the former’s middle name was Makepeace, the latter had, to use WM Thackeray’s turn of phrase, taken his choice long ago.
After parting ways from his cartoonist uncle who is known best for lending his brush strokes to making state’s politics more grotesque than ever, Raj has baked his political bread to perfection on a hearth he fuelled with hatred. No wonder that the aged uncle is impressed and has coaxed his indolent heir to jump onto the bandwagon. So, Uddhav now wants a permit system for Biharis in Maharashtra.
Thackerays as a lot have never seen merit in the spirit of federalism. But Raj, Swararaj, the king of musical notes, being the actual name his father gave him and which he chose to prune later, talks of a dangerous exclusivism which borders on separatism. Anger has been his music and hatred his song. In a short political career which grew and rode on vandalism, he has doled out insults to many vulnerable bigwigs.
In 2009, veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan had to apologise on behalf of his wife Jaya Bachchan, sitting Rajya Sabha MP of Samajwadi Party, whose statement was considered hurtful to Maharashtrians by Raj Thackeray. During launch of the film Drona, she had chosen to speak in Hindi, saying “Hum UP (Uttar Pradesh) ke log hain, isliye Hindi mein baat karenge, Maharashtra ke log maaf kijiye”. Raj considered the statement an insult to Marathis and threatened to ban all Bachchan films unless Jaya apologised in a public forum for hurting Maharashtrians. MNS workers began to attack theatres screening The Last Lear starring Amitabh Bachchan. Finally, Big B had to apologise to make sure his film ran in theatres.
In October 2009, Raj objected to use of the term Bombay rather than Mumbai in Karan Johar’s movie Wake Up Sid. MNS workers disrupted the screening of the film in a few Pune and Mumbai theatres. KJo visited Raj's residence to apologise and agreed to his condition of including an apology on each of the 700 frames in the film.
In November 2009, MNS workers physically assaulted Samajwadi Party's Abu Azmi while he was taking oath in the Maharashtra assembly in Hindi. Earlier, Raj had warned the legislators to "take their oaths in Marathi only or else face dire consequences”.
A few days ago, MNS workers threatened to disrupt the shooting of Sur Kshetra, a TV programme featuring Pakistani artistes. Raj said he did not favour the inclusion of Pakistani performers. When veteran singer Asha Bhonsle, who is also a part of the show, said that she does not understand politics, and that she considers guests like god, Thackeray rebuked the singer saying he wondered if the real reason she participated in the show was "Paisa devo bhava" (Money is god).
And the most recent when Raj called Biharis in Maharashtra “infiltrators” and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh made an unverified claim that Raj’s ancestors are from Bihar, Raj retorted: “So is Digvijay Singh’s family from Sulabh Shauchalay?”
By now, two things are clear. That Raj is base and brash. And that he has been making hay out of it. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s recent criticism of the Congress governments in Maharashtra as well as at the centre for allowing Thackeray to “get away” with such remarks makes sense and calls for a thought. Had it not been for political calculations, Raj would and should have been bundled into a police van and brought to senses long ago. In a way, he owes his raucous existence to a condescending system which has allowed him to grow.
While the MNS chief alone decides what offends the Maratha pride and when, it will teach him best the essence of India’s unity if he were to be interned out of Maharashtra. A year-long stay in Bihar, if it were to be, would ensure he keeps the original Thackeray’s middle name as well.