Tomorrow never comes

Soon after the introduction of mobile technology in the country, my then editor at the Indian Express had decided we needed to do a light-hearted story on how cell phones were changing the lives of politicians. Among the many leaders from across various political parties who I spoke to, the only one who could not respond, well, on the move, was Raj Thackeray, then of the Shiv Sena, now the president of the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

“Aap aisa kijiye. aap mujhe kal phone kijiye. Mein soch kar batata hoon (Call me tomorrow. I have to think about it),” he said, startling me no end.

Of course, he got left out of the story because we ran with it the same night and ‘tomorrow’ was a new day — and a new story.

The Sena was then in power in Maharashtra and Raj soon got into ample trouble over various issues, like the Ramesh Kini murder case and one involving the alleged grabbing of some prime property in Bombay. I had switched jobs by then to Outlook magazine and now I wanted a response to this indictment by the Bombay High Court. This time Raj was ;roaming’ (as was his cell-phone, of course) and he said, again, “Call me tomorrow.”

The story, once again, had to go without his response as his `tomorrow’ never did come — despite having held the story over a week for his comments, he kept pushing his response each day to ‘tomorrow’.

Yet some years later, now with the Hindustan Times, I was on to another light-hearted piece on the kind of cars politicians love to drive. Everyone, including the rustic Narayan Rane, then Minister for Revenue in the Vilasrao Deshmukh government, indulged me with instant responses, although I could sense that they were all a little impatient at being troubled in the middle of a work day for such a triviality in their lives. When I called Raj Thackeray, he once again pushed his response to – you guessed right! — `tomorrow’. He had to think about it again. But even this tomorrow never did come.

And I am sure it never will. For Raj Thackeray is clearly stuck in a time warp and unable to get out of an old mind set – that of his uncle Bal Thackeray’s, in fact. For, soon after the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance came to power in Maharashtra, Thackeray had decreed that North Indians migrating to Bombay in search of work and a better livelihood will have to seek `permits’ and that they would not be issued ration cards. With the BJP in power in Uttar Pradesh at the time and its major vote bank composed of North Indians, it was left to then BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan to take Thackeray to task and explain to him how constitutionally it was not possible to bar any one, let alone North Indians, from arriving in Bombay by the dozens every day.

Thackeray had to swallow his bile on that one – for, all said and done, his party was in government and they had sworn by the Constitution to uphold the dignity of each and every individual and citizen of this country. By the time the Sena rule came to an end, it was obvious that North Indians were a major component of voters in Bombay – while they voted for the BJP in their home states, they clearly rooted for the Congress in their workplace. That is the singular reason why the Congress has returned thrice in a row to govern the state.

Taking lessons from their debacle, Thackeray’s son and heir, Uddhav Thackeray, the working president of the Shiv Sena, attempted to woo North Indians by presiding at an Uttar Pradesh Divas event just before the 2009 elections. That was like a red rag to the bull and the beginning of Raj Thackeray’s anti-North Indian spree in the state – both one North Indian youth and one middle-aged Maharashtrian man lost their lives in the fracas.

Instead of coming down heavily on the MNS president, the Congress covertly encouraged Raj to go on the rampage – they mistakenly thought this would kill two birds with one stone by, firstly, splitting the Sena votes and, secondly, consolidating the North Indians behind their party. However, the results to the 2009 Assembly elections showed that while the Sena might have been the greater sufferer, the Congress, too, had lost some of its seats to the MNS and had barely managed to scrape through with a simple majority.

Since then they have been, indeed, taking some cognisance of the Sena’s and the MNS’ anti-North Indian rhetoric. But, clearly, all those non-bailable warrants against Raj Thackeray have not been enough of a deterrent.

Now Raj threatens Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar from coming to a Bihar day function in Bombay on April 15. He has challenged Kumar, threatening action against him if he steps into the city, saying, “I want to put an end to such theatrics and you will see it.”

Well, the theatrics seem to be all on the part of Raj Thackeray. Kumar has, after all, reacted with equanimity, stating merely that he does not need a visa (or even a permit or a ration card, I would add) to travel to Bombay. He is a constitutionally elected chef minister, after all (which Raj is not) and clearly not afraid to take on the likes of the MNS chief who, speaking at a rally in Malegaon this week, said “Give me power in the state tomorrow and I will show you what I can do.”

There it is again – his favourite `tomorrow’. Now with the Maharashtra government serious about ensuring Kumar’s security at the Bihar day event tomorrow (since most of you might be reading this first on April 14), I am sure, once again, for Raj Thackeray this might be another tomorrow that never comes.

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