About Sujata Anandan

Sujata Anandan was brought to political reporting by an old-time editor, kicking and screaming. She soon began to have fun, though. Today that kicking and screaming is mostly directed at her — by the politicians she writes about, with rarely a good word for anyone (there could be exceptions).  But she is never meaner or nastier than the subjects themselves and so lives to see another day, every day. Otherwise, she enjoys her job as the Political Editor of the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times.

The actor Sanjay Dutt has familiarised all of India with a very evocative Bombay-specific word — maamu. No, that does not mean maternal uncle as people in the north might presume but making a fool of someone very adeptly as Dutt’s character did in the blockbuster film ‘Munnabhai, MBBS’.

Now I do think that Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has made a ‘maamu’ of Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and might be laughing behind his sleeve. For, I refuse to believe that either Fadnavis, who is a lawyer, or officials of the government of Maharashtra did not know the law or even of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the turning of government bungalows into memorials for departed leaders.

But on November 17 this year, as the Shiv Sena was commemorating the third anniversary of Bal Thackeray’s passing, Fadnavis made a grand announcement that a memorial to Thackeray would come up at the Mayor’s bungalow adjunct to the beach at Shivaji Park. Now the Mayor’s bungalow is not private property and Thackeray had held no constitutional position in his lifetime ever to merit government property as a memorial. Even former president APJ Abdul Kalam’s retirement home in New Delhi could not be turned into his memorial precisely because the Supreme Court had decreed against such conversions of government bungalows into memorials.

So did Fadnavis not know all this or, if he did, why did he string Uddhav Thackeray along? I am inclined to think that Fadnavis was getting his back on the Shiv Sena, which has been proving a troublesome ally, constantly yapping at the BJP’s heels and that Fadnavis made the promise knowing full well nothing will come of it.

However, in the meantime, he could play the regretful ally who had tried and had been overruled by courts and procedures. It would help to cool the Shiv Sena down and the BJP could buy time until the crucial Bombay Municipal Corporation elections coming up in February 2017. I wonder how long it will take Uddhav to realise he had been had and resume hostilities with the BJP once more.

For it is not going to be easy to overcome the Supreme Court ruling and now even Raj Thackeray, Uddhav’s estranged cousin and his own brother Jaidev Thackeray have been growling about what they see as the Shiv Sena’s land-grabbing tactics.

Raj, in fact, has categorically said so soon after Fadnavis’s announcement but few have paid attention to Jaidev Thackeray — he asked why, when the Thackeray family has ample land and property across Bombay, do they not convert one of these into a memorial. Or if none of these suits, he said, the Shiv Sena owns enough money to buy a suitable property for a memorial.

But still the Shiv Sena has been after grabbing a corner of Shivaji Park for a memorial ever since Thackeray’s funeral was conducted there. But the Maharashtra government is itself in dispute with the Bombay high court about who owns Shivaji Park — the government or the citizenry — and has been steadily refusing the Shiv Sena on this count.

But the idea to turn the mayor’s bungalow into a memorial, to be fair, comes not from the Shiv Sena or the BJP but from Sharad Pawar — the original doyen of all land grabbers, if I might put it that way. Sometime in 2013, Pawar decided to intervene in the dispute between the then Congress-NCP government and the Shiv Sena to suggest that the mayor’s bungalow could be converted into a memorial.

At that time he was looking at anti-incumbency being faced by both the UPA government at the Centre in which he was a minister and the Congress-NCP government in the state, and was hoping the resolution of the memorial crisis would ingratiate Uddhav to him to such an extent that the Shiv Sena would extend support to his party in event of a hung assembly in Maharashtra, if not in Parliament at the centre.

But with then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan taking a tough stance, nothing came of it and the results to the Lok Sabha were such that Uddhav had no need to feel grateful to Pawar for anything.

Now Devendra Fadnavis seems to have taken a leaf out of Pawar’s book and is taking Uddhav Thackeray for a royal ride. How long before Uddhav catches on, one does not know but one thing is certain — the mayor’s bungalow will not be turned into a memorial anytime soon and certainly not for Bal Thackeray. How long the truce then lasts is a toss-up and a million dollar question that might have no answer.

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Sometimes a family priest can be a great source of gossip — and some good information. I have learnt many things from my own priest, a very practical man whose homilies are abundantly laced with material truths.

At the height of the Anna Hazare agitation, he told me nothing would be served by that campaign. When I asked how he had come to that conclusion, he said, “How much do I care about which minister is making how many crores? What I want is to be able to get services without having to pay bribes. So even if Hazare brings down the government, nothing will be served because at the common level we will have to continue paying bribes.”

Now that cynical view came from practical experience – he had to bribe the corporation officer certifying cremations with a thousand rupee note every time he took anybody to the crematorium. He had tried to approach a local corporator for help persuade the man to cease taking such bribes – the official, who was performing the duties of a traditional `dom’ in these modern times, refused to allow the pyres to be lit unless one red note was slipped into his palm — and the corproator advised every family pay up. “Do you think it is easy for this man to live day and night at the crematorium, among burning bodies?’’ he asked. My priest realised he needed to be stone drunk every time he had to approach a body to make sure it is burnt properly and that no dogs get to the unburnt parts. “He is a poorly paid government employee, so where do you think he will get the money from, if not from the dear ones of the dead?”

My priest accepted the practicality of the situation and much against his conscience persuaded every client to pay up when they needed the service.

When he first came into our lives, he was somewhat male chauvinistic. We are three sisters, our father had just passed away and he was against girls lighting a funeral pyre. We fought back bitterly against that attitude and with the help of more modernist Arya Samajis, who decreed that a daughter was no less eligible than a son, we conducted the ceremonies. One of my sisters is a banker, the other poet and, for the qualities we showed, he labelled us as Laxmi, Durga and Saraswati. He had a little daughter barely two years old at the time and his wife was expecting again. He had hoped it would be a son but then he was worldly enough to stop at three daughters and change his mind about girls — today he labels them as the three goddesses of his life. Over the years he has developed the opinion that daughters were better children than sons, they took better care of their parents and were the more reliable insurance for their old age.

But apart from such homilies, he is also a great source of information to me. For example, some years ago, he brought me news, which had until then gone unreported, of a prominent politician whose wayward son had developed AIDS. “How do you know?” I asked him, quite disbelieving. “The doctor at the hospital who is treating him is one of my clients. He was sworn to secrecy under pain of death by this goonda politician who wanted him to fudge he hospital records to show the disease as something else. He was in deep dilemma – conscience versus his life and the safety of his family. He came to me for advice.”

Guruji then thought about it and decided that fudging the records was a minor transgression of dharma than risking the life of his family. “Yes, you a spoiling your karma. But the sin will be greater if you put lives to risk for not telling a lie,” he told this doctor.

I asked around and realised my priest might be telling the truth. For this son of that politician did look as though he was fading away from some illness and did a while later.

The next bit of information was about a young boy of 24, belonging to a rich business family who had been drunk driving one night and had been picked up by the police who did not allow him to inform his parents. He was gang raped 40 times in the police lock up all night and was a mad traumatised wreck by the time his parents got to know about it all next morning. They did not lodge an FIR as they believed they would not get justice since it had all been engineered by the cops in a police station; despite their clout and money they turned down the advice of friends and family to approach the police commissioner or the local MP as they wished to avoid a scandal that would mar the young boy’s future. They simply sent him abroad to his relatives and decided to migrate along with him a few months later. Again I asked around and while everyone knew they had moved to the US no one was quite sure why despite prosperity in India, they had to become immigrants in a foreign land. There was, of course, no question of reporting the incident without corroboration but I believed my priest had the facts right and I respected his plea for confidence.

Now a couple of years later, he brings me some information that astounds me about the capacity of self-seeking human beings to cheat, commit fraud and take advantage of the vulnerabilities of people in general. For the annual navgraha puja that he conducts for my family, I noticed that he had reduced the quantities of pulses to be placed at the worship from a couple of kilos to some grammes. When I asked him whym he said, “Everything today is adulterated. Cow’s ghee will turn from yellow to white a few days after you have opened the tin. Half raw bananas will ripen overnight and become inedible a day later. You cannot be sure the milk you have bought from the local gwala does not have quantities of detergent and urea in it.”

“But what about daal?”

“Do you know that there is a factory here which is producing stones that look identical to chana, urad and tuar daal?” he asked.

I was stunned – this was news to me. When I asked him where he got that information it was again a conscience stricken client who had brought the news to him. A retired man seeking a job had been hired as the manager of a marbles (kanchas) factory. “They do produce a certain amount of kanchas in the front side of the factory. But at the back it is full of artificial stones that will eventually be mixed with the daals and sold to customers.”

The owners of the factory were salvaging their conscience by convincing themselves that they only manufactured the stones, “We do not mix or adulterete the daalsl; these are bought by the traders and they do the mixing. Our hands are clean,” they told their shocked manager.

He refused the job offer and they doubled his salary – it is not the money but the morals which count, he told the priest when he came to him for advice.

This time Guruji advised him to steer clear of this fraud for it affected the lives of more than just one family – with daals selling at 200 rupees or more per kilo, the shooting prices seem to have given rise to a completely new industry but there is no way that this will make it to the media. For the factory is a tightly closed enterprise and no one they cannot trust to keep a lid on the fraud can get past the front office.

I did think of a sting but Guruji discouraged me from venturing into any stupid campaign. “They are already upset with my client for turning down the job and if they get wind of anyone else knowing about what they are doing, many lives coukd be endangered,” he warned me.

We must then inform the food and drugs administration or the income tax officers, I said. “They already know,” Guruji said wryly. “They all are party the fraud – you have to agree to be bought off or you will be silenced forever.”

That is what he is afraid will happen to his retired manager client. We are all keeping our fingers crossed for the man.

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The last time I plucked an orange off its tree was in Greece. When I landed in Athens, I was startled to see orange bushes acting as dividers across the roads. They were in season and the orange fruit hung low from the branches. But, of course, unlike in India, it was not possible to just hop across and pluck one fruit. The laws were strict and Greek cops stricter. But, then, one day I wandered into a garden in the middle of the city to rest my tired limbs and as I stretched out on a bench, I discovered I was sitting right under an orange tree and ripe fruits were dropping off by the dozens all around me. I picked one up and then stood and plucked one off the tree, convincing myself it was no crime to take fruit that would be falling off by its own in a few minutes anyway.

I come from orange country in India — Nagpur – and I cannot describe the pleasure it gave me to find oranges right in the middle of Europe. Since then I have tasted Maltese oranges and had what they call Clementines in Europe but I have come to the conclusion I love my Nagpur oranges the best – even at Indian supermarkets which today are stocked high with imported fruits, I give the foreign oranges a wide berth, though I may pick strawberries from Denmark, which are sweeter than the Indian variety and definitely go for apples from New Zealand and China against my grain simply because our very own Kashmiri apples are neither crisp nor juicy and always seem over-ripe and aged by the time they come to the metropolitan stores. (I think we lack the transportation and storage techniques. I have plucked an apple off the tree in Kashmir once many years ago and it never tasted more good!).

So this week I was delighted to come across groves and groves of orange orchards as I drove through our orange county , for the first time in many years during the season. The oranges are just beginning to appear in the markets but they are still raw and sour and it will be a couple of months before the oranges begin to turn, well, orange on the trees. But even so, I was tempted so we stopped our car beside the highway and found a kachcha lane leading into one orchard. The gardeners were delighted to see us and allowed us to pluck dozens of those oranges for just Rs 20 (we gave them Rs 50, because anything less would have been just pennies — or paise).

“Won’t your employer, the owner of the orange orchard mind if we take these oranges away?” I asked.

“it is a bad season,” one of the gardeners said, flummoxing me completely. “He will be only too glad to get rid of some of this thus.”

“How is it a bad season when the trees are heavily laden with fruits ripening on the trees?” I asked.

That is why it is a bad season, he said and as he explained, for the first time I understood why orange farmers never commit suicide, only cotton farmers in Vidarbha do.

Orange farmers are never worried about how their crop fares because this is one fruit whose wholesale prices always cover the dearth or plenty of the crop. “If we have unseasonal rains and lose much fruit, the prices of oranges in the retail and wholesale markets will shoot up. The farmer will always recover his costs. But if there is a bountiful season then he has to sell the crop cheap but then there are so many oranges to sell that he still recovers the costs. Orange farmers make no losses any season.”

I haven’t checked the truth of this claim out statistically but, yes, I have never heard of farmers’ suicides among the cultivators of oranges and there is no orange politics in the state unlike that with cotton. No one demands remunerative prices for oranges as they do for cotton and the only time one politician did so, his own party men laughed him off. This legislator had brought a truck laden with the fruit to the assembly premises in Nagpur one winter session of the legislature and, I remember, the oranges disappeared in minutes as all fellow politicians, legislature staff, security guards and even us journalists commandeered dozens of those oranges for ourselves. Even the MLA who had tried to make an issue of the oranges was laughing at the speed with which they were consumed and the farmers who had accompanied him were not unhappy either for they had a bountiful crop that season — while they needed to sell heavily to recover costs on the low wholesale prices, they had enough and more not to want the fruits to go rotting on the roadsides.

And indeed this season, too, already mounds of the fruit are arranged on the roadside by villagers who have just picked them off the trees for free and were selling them at half the price that it is now beginning to be available in the city markets.

Vidarbha is both cotton and orange country and I wonder if cotton farming is really so fraught with the danger of failures and low cost recoveries, why don’t more and more of them shift to oranges? The black cotton soil of the region is very fertile and these trees, including lemon trees, grow just about anywhere, including in pots. My mother planted a small lemon sapling in a giant pot in her potted garden a few years ago and today it has grown huge enough to enable the neighbour upstairs to lean across and pluck some lemons off our tree each evening as they sit down for a drink or two with their friends and visitors. Last year, we even managed to pickle the lemons and make a squash out of some more in sufficient quantity to last the year. I thought we might do the same with oranges and asked the gardener for a sapling but he said there was a technique for planting an orange tree — and they could not grow in pots.

But since then I have got thinking that perhaps Sharad Pawar was right when as Union agriculture minister he advised the farmers of Vidarbha to go in for cash crops including tomatoes – for tomatoes are another crop that grows in a small patch in your garden and comes up with heavily laden fruit.

Now that is something which is being encouraged by NGOs from Nagpur – one particular group, Zero Gravity, run by Maitreyi Jichkar, daughter of former Maharashtra minister Dr Shrikant Jichkar, who was a farmer himself, organised a direct sale of vegetables from farmers to consumers at half the retail prices in the stores. The sale was a big hit and the vegetables, crisp and farm fresh, sold out in less than two hours. I believe if more such efforts are made, farmers should not be in distress at all.

Just like the oranges I picked off the trees, the vegetables too were crisp and almost raw. The tomatoes I bought from the Zero Gravity sale a week ago are still sitting on our kitchen counter, crisp and juicy as ever. The oranges which were a little tart to begin with are ripening and turning sweeter each day, And every time I peel one, I am still guilty that I paid just Rs 50 for five score and more. How much does that work out to per orange? You can guess. And I am told the orchard owner was glad to be rid of them at that price!

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“Sorry, Sir,” the bouncer at the entrance to the dance bar told Pramod Navalkar. “This is not a restaurant. We do not serve food here.”

“We know,” piped up my woman journalist colleague from a Marathi newspaper. She and I had bullied (the late) Navalkar into bar-hopping that night.

As a Shiv Sena leader who kept a sharp eye out for the underbelly of the city, Navalkar knew most of the bar owners and much of the nether elements of the city. As a Shiv Sainik, one would have associated him with being in the forefront of moral policing but somehow Navalkar, who once got into trouble with Bal Thackeray for holding aloft a glass of champagne in full glare of cameras and had to pass it off as apple juice, did not support then Maharashtra home minister RR Patil’s bid to shut down the dance bars (in 2005).

He was now taking us to some of them so that, as we persuaded him, we could see for ourselves what really happened in these establishments.

The bouncers’ eyes popped out as we said we wished to spend some time watching the dances. “This is not an establishment for women like you.” he said weakly.

“Oh?” said my friend. “What do you mean by women like us?”

He knew he had overstepped the mark. “Not a family place Ma’am,” he stammered.

“We are not with families. We are here on our own. We want to meet the other women inside,” we insisted.

He was even more reluctant to let us in once he heard we were journalists but then Navalkar had some pretty strong influence with the owners and the doors were opened for us reluctantly.

The reactions of the men inside the dance bar, stretched and relaxed on sofas, nursing a drink each, was equal to that of the bouncers at the doors. They couldn’t believe their eyes — we were obviously not dancing girls but what place did women who seemed different have in a dance bar? Surely we could not be dancers but we could not be customers either.

But then Navalkar shooed us upstairs to a private room with a huge dance floor and plush sofas lined against the walls. This is where men with loads of money to shell out in a single night were privately entertained and two girls, who were also startled to see a man with two women in the dancing room, put up a fine show for us for an hour.

Later they told us they hoped and prayed each day that RR Patil would change his mind because they had families to look after and children to bring up, and with their lack of education they had no idea what they could do to earn a living but dance.

“Are you afraid you will have to turn to the flesh trade?” we asked. Pain welled up in the eyes of the girls very visibly and they turned their faces away without an answer.

Patil had told me the dance bars were already prostitution rackets and I was sure there might have been much contact between the men entertained in this room and the dancing girls but the bar owner assured us it wasn’t so.

“Sometimes there are men who simply can’t resist one particular girl (buri tarah se dil aa jaata hai kisi ladki par), They are then willing to sacrifice (nyochaavar) everything on her. We just facilitate the privacy so that the girl can earn as well as we. But there is only eye contact. We do not allow anyone to touch or physically manhandle our girls.”

I was not quite sure of that but there have been stories of men who have thrown away as much as one crore rupees in a single night on these girls and made them rich overnight.

Talking to the girls at this and other dance bars that night we came to the conclusion that RR Patil was wrong to look upon these establishments in black and white terms as dens of vice.

Yes, there were a fair amount of girls who might have been simultaneously involved in prostitution but there were an equal amount of them who developed some permanent relationships with these men and others who danced their hearts out all night to simply make both end meet. And they were no different from the traditional lavni dancers of Maharashtra who were living in the same trap under the same circumstances but outside the modern milieu of those at the dance bars.

At least the girls in Bombay had a chance for escape once they had made enough money to sustain themselves. Not so the lavni dancers who are condemned to their miserable existence until they die.

The arguments of the government at the time — that the dance bars were corrupting the rural youth was both fallacious and facetious. At the time Patil quoted the case of a youth in a village who had killed his mother when she denied him the money to blow up at a dance bar (which had extended to smaller cities on the outskirts of the villages).

The moral policing was, however, hypocritical because these were the very same politicians who patronised the lavni artistes in the villages — and they were doing nothing less than what the girls in Bombay were, with a difference — the girls in Bombay had a fair bid at escaping prostitution; the lavni dancers, traditionally, did not.

Even today, lavni dancers cannot just dance and go home, sleeping with all the men comes with the territory — until they find a patron who would stay with them through their lives. And then they stay loyal to that one patron (called yajman) who takes care of her and her children though he still does not marry the lavni dancer to make an honest woman of her.

So why was Patil so adamant on shutting down the dance bars? It had to do more with the failure of the law enforcers and also of some disappointed politicians who did try to patronise these dance bars on the pattern of lavni dancers, but failed.

These girls were not bound by tradition unlike the lavni dancers and most of the time made fools of the besotted men and escaped their clutches.

Many cops were part owners of many of these dance bars and that angered Patil no end for he was then trying to discipline the police force which had nothing but contempt for the state home minister.

Yes, some of the bars were operating prostitution rackets but the then president of the dance bars association Manjit Singh Sethi is on record saying that they regularly pointed them out to the police but the police never raided them because these unsavoury establishments had partnerships with the law enforcers themselves.

We might need statistical studies to prove this but on a rough call, I noticed the shutting down of the bars also meant that the police began to lose their informers — they were good hanging out joints and a good resource for undercover cops — a lot of crime went unsolved in the last decade essentially because the police had no informers to fall back on due to the shutting down of these establishments.

Informers were simply afraid of meeting cops openly or keeping up in other ways lest other corrupt cops give them away, The bars were a good place to bump into people (though many were also bumped off inside or outside these establishments).

But the biggest fallout of the shutdown was that straight away nearly a lakh or more of such bar dancers were forced to go into prostitution — even those who might have escaped the profession given the purported strict hands-off policy of many dance bars.

I asked RR patil then what alternative programme of livelihood he had evolved for the dancing girls. His reaction was that of a typically unfeeling politician – “They can go back to their home states. We did not ask them to become dancing girls.”

Ten years later, as the Supreme Court rules against the shutdown, it is apparent that nothing was accomplished by that order accept putting more girls out into prostitution. And the original aim of saving lavni dancers fell by the way side, too, for modern youth, the sons and descendants of former feudal lords who patronised lavni dancers, some of them educated in the cities or even abroad, are simply not interested in propping up a tradition which is a throwback to undemocratic times when slaves and vassals were the norm.

They were attracted by the dancer bars, too, where they could spend some time seeking pleasurable pursuits without having to carry the burden of the dancers and their children for life.

Still, it is interesting to see how the dance bars issue continues to unite politicians across the board — every political party has raged against the Supreme Court verdict and their arguments remain ad nauseum the same. One must not forget the very famous politician-lavni dancer pairing of Gopinath Munde of the BJP and Barkha Patil from Chaufula.

She belonged to Sharad Pawar’s constituency and Pawar is credited with bringing their liaison to light. Out of pique or pure malice that such a beautiful dancer came to the lot of a non-Maratha BJP politician when traditionally it was Maratha Congressmen who were patronising them, one does not know!

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With the Shiv Sena you never get what you see. Years ago, all of a sudden, they began to oppose Valentine’sday celebrations for no rhyme or reason. For years, celebrating couples were beaten up but, more importantly, shops displaying Valentine’s day cards were vandalised and what very few of us noticed was that their target was one particular card and gifts company which had popularised this festival in India.

It was years later that I realised what had been behind those demonstrations – and never as simple as it had seemed. When the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s relationship with a tamasha dancer had been exposed, Bal Thackeray had quipped `pyaar kiya toh darna kya!’ Then what had suddenly happened to this man who was not ashamed of declaring love, I wondered, for was he not, at the same time allowing his favourite daughter-in-law to hold Valentine’s dinners at her numerous restaurants across the city?

It was only when Thackeray’s son Uddhav had a major falling out with his sister-in-law Smita Thackeray (Balasaheb’s favourite ) that I got it from the horse’s mouth. It was all about money.

Smita Thackeray at the height of the Shiv Sena rule in Maharashtra had set up a foundation to support AIDS victims. One year she decided to organise a show by Bollywood artists which was sponsored by a leading card company. Bur as is the norm with the Shiv Sena, neither Smita nor Bal Thackeray felt it prudent to repay the company fpr expenses incurred or keep part of their deal for a share in the profits.

Next year, when Smita approached them again they refused, citing losses from the previous year and yet unpaid dues. By then word had spread among potential sponsors and no one came forward to lift the bill for the show by the Mukti Foundation (we don’t hear of the foundation any more). Thackeray tried everything to cajole, persuade or threaten the company but they did not budge. But then they had reckoned without the annual damage they would have to put up with as a consequence. However, they stoically bore the loss through the years – until Smita’s divorce with her husband came through and Uddhav and Raj then had no interest in pursuing an agitation that Thackeray had started in the name of his favourite daughter-in-law. Have people noticed that these celebrations are disturbed no longer and the only groups still taking it up are the fringe elements of the BJP like the Bajrang Sena’s support even their opposition is rather half-hearted and generally ignored by all concerned.

So when it comes to Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali I suspect I know what is afoot. I am convinced there is something similarly fishy in the background. For this is not the first time that the Sena and, in particular, Uddhav Thackeray has opposed his singing in Bombay – they had done the same several years ago and the excuse of him being afrom an enemy nation even then did not go down too well. Of course, Shiv Sainiks had once torn up the cricket pitch at the Wankhede stadium to prevent an India-Pakistan match in 1991 but that now is much water under the bridge. At the time they first targeted Ghulam Ali there were a lot of Pakistani actors in India working actively in Indian films as they are now, including on various television shows and it is doubtful if any Sena leaders even know who they are.

The one time that Pakistani artistes were targeted and thrown out of India for their country’s role in the 26/11 attacks was when Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had rounded them up and put them on planes at the Bombay airport. But many of them are now back and India Pakistan matches too are being played without harassment. And, most importantly, a few months ago, Ghulam Ali had even sung bhajans at the Sankatmochan Mandir in Varanasi, Narendra Modi’s constituency.

So why not in Bombay? Cut to the Michael Jackson show of the mid-1990s. The Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray had similarly raised objections to the MJ show though they could not bring an enemy nation into the picture. Here they had sought to stop the organisers by raising the bogey of the corruption of Indian culture but then MJ paid a visit to Thackeray at Matoshree and flattered the Sena tiger by even using his personal toilet – Thackeray could not stop dining on that story for years. But, I suspect, the organisers also cut a deal with the Thackerays for all members of the family got prime seats at the show, never mind that Michael Jackson was corrupting Indian culture with his songs and dances that night.

But I have heard Ghulam Ali is uncompromising in these matters – he will not pee in other people’s toilet and he will notn cut a deal to entertain the audiences with his mellifluous music. That must bug the Thackerays because even Javed Miandad, former captain of the Pakistani cricket team and Dawood Ibrahim’s samadhi had paid a visit to Thackeray and smoothened his ruffled feathers. It must come as a shock to the Thackerays that there is someone not willing to kowtow to them (actually Shahrukh Khan was another but then he is Indian and he had the government backing him up all the way). So what better than to stall the show at the last minute – waiing for Ali to turn up and use the toilet at Matoshree. When that did not happen it was clear it would be a no show.

So this is no simple political play between two allies, considering chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had offered complete security to the show against its ally. It is much beyond petty power play and cuts closer to the bone in how the Shiv Sena has always conducted its business.

Sadly Bombay and Jagjit Singh – for the show was in his honour – is the loser.

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