So who’s afraid of Bal Thackeray?

Sometimes, I despair for the Shiv Sena after Bal Thackeray. Many of the party’s leaders have learnt well from the Sena supremo but I believe it is high time those who have inherited Bal Thackeray’s party unlearn all that the Sena tiger taught them and chart thir own course, for that is the only road to survival.

Thackeray was wont to take credit for each and every event that would boost his image as a rabble rouser, even if he hadn’t been guilty of that particular transgression. For example, knowing that his Shiv Sainiks had not been present in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 when the Babri Masjid was brought down by a bunch of Bajrang Dal workers, Thackeray claimed he was proud of his Shiv Sainiks for having destroyed the mosque.

It was only when he got into trouble with the special court in Allahabad which was probing the demolition that he backtracked, putting the blame squarely on the BJP, abusing its leaders for having been cowards and failing to admit to their crime. “I knew my sainiks had done nothing. But everybody said that they had demolished the mosque. I am afraid of no one or nothing so all that I said was, ‘if’. ‘If my sainiks had brought down the mosque, then I could only be proud of them.’ I was not afraid.”

But he was, as his followers should now be. While the police action against the two girls in Palghar who posted an innocuous message on Facebook on the day of Thackeray’s funeral is a separate debate, I wonder if the Shiv Sena actually verified who was responsible for the vandalism of a nursing home run by one of the girls’ uncles. A little bird tells me it was not the Shiv Sena at all but a notorious local don, much feared by the cops, whose goons attempted to destroy that hospital.

Even before Thackeray’s ashes had turned cold, there was an attempt by rival political parties to counter the enormous sympathy that the Shiv Sena seemed to have received following Thackeray’s death. The same little bird tells me, both cops and politicians fully expected Shiv Sainiks to run riot in Bombay on the day of the funeral. But while the city might have shut down, people were highly impressed by the military precision of the funeral procession as well as the fact that the overflowing emotions seemed genuine and that the city had heaved a huge collective sigh of relief that no lives were lost or property damaged.

Lest that feeling of sympathy and appreciation grow roots, political rivals of the Shiv Sena were quick off the mark, making use of a don close to some powers that be to vandalise in the name of Shiv Sainiks. And the Sena fell right into the trap with Sanjay Raut, editor of the Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece, claiming that the Sainks did right, without even verifying their identities and other credentials.

The Shiv Sena left behind by Bal Thackeray is unlikely to wriggle out of such mess as easily as Thackeray used to do in the past. Already a furious debate is raging round the country about the denial of freedom of expression to even people who post innocuous messages on social networking sites with even the union government compelled to modify the rules to disallow junior level cops who do not understand the IT act to apply it to people of their own accord. Outrage has overtaken sympathy even in Thackeray’s core Mumbai support base and while two innocent girls were needlessly traumatized, the purpose of some diabolical rivals of the Shiv Sena has been served. They need do nothing further – the natural stupidities of Shiv Sainiks will soon take over and destroy the party, in the process, if not already begun.

I can understand that Thackeray’s son Uddhav is in deep mourning and his nephew Raj is s estranged from his cousin but I would have thought there were other intelligent leaders in the party who would have seen the conspiracy for what it was. For not even when Thackeray was alive, was a bunch of junior cops or a magistrate so eager to jump into action and shoot themselves in the foot.

It is said about Bal Thackeray that his party gained over the years because of the mistakes of his rivals. But Uddhav must now ensure that the Shiv Sena does not fritter away those gains because of the mistakes of his own rank and file.
There was already a similar action attempted in Wardha district a few days after the Palghar incident. However, by then the outrage over Palghar had gone so viral that the authorities swiftly pulled themselves back from the brink. Wardha is not a region where the Sena enjoys any significant support, so the conspiracy s very apparent.

The Shiv Sena must now read the writing on the wall and understand that in a globalised world their party cannot work on the support of local goons alone. It had to have a new agenda that helps the youth – who were always the core support base of Bal Thackeray – connect with the party again. It must also realise that they are giving Maharashtrians a bad image outside of the state and that a common goonda is not what the average Maharashtrian wants to be seen as.

There are no brownie points to be earned at taking credit for other people’s acts that might seem brave and fearless but are in essence only criminal and self- serving. Courage is not about beating people up, it is about admitting to one’s mistakes, however much that might cost one in pride and ego and in correcting the course of one’s past action which otherwise could only be disastrous in the long run.

High time, then, that the Shiv Sena wakes op and smells the coffee.

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