Going with the wind…

As Bal Thackeray’s birth anniversary approaches (January 23), I wonder where the Shiv Sena supremo’s legacy has disappeared barely two months after his passing (on Nov 17, 2012).

Before his death, many of us in the media had thought that the Shiv Sena will disintegrate with most Sainiks transferring their loyalties to the Sena tiger’s nephew, Raj Thackeray, who is more a chip of the old block than his cousin, Thackeray’s son and declared heir, Uddhav Thackeray.

That, however, has not happened — perhaps because Thackeray ensured, in his last public address at the Sena’s annual Dassehra rally in October 2012, that trhe people stayed with his son. “I feel I have very little time to live. Please take care of Uddhav and Aditya (his grandson) for me,’’ he told the emotional crowd.

They have taken Thackeray seriously and are sticking loyally to Uddhav but I notice that most lower rung Shiv Sainiks do not know who now might their leader be. Uddhav made some good moves soon after his father’s passing by refusing to don his mantle of `Sena supremo’ and choosing to remain just the party president. He vowed to follow in his father’s footsteps, keep his legacy alive and emotionally energised the crowd at his first public rally post- Thackeray in Kolhapur. But I can see that has left Sainiks neither here nor there. For there is a lot of infighting among the top Sena leadership with stalwarts like Manohar Joshi and Sanjay Raut at loggerheads with each other, disagreeing on policies and strategies and attempting to chart their own course on various issues, from Thackeray’s memorial to not allowing Pakistani sportspersons in India, leaving Shiv Sainiks thoroughly confused.

There was a time, even during his illness, that Thackeray seemed to have lost none of his sting and vigour but that was not really the Sena supremo. For example just three days before he died, the Saamna carried a stinging editorial where Thackeray seemingly lambasted a Marathi newspaper for reporting – correctly, as it turned out — that he had been put under ventilator. “How dare they?’’ he raged. “I have enough powers in me to put all my enemies under ventilator in one go!’’ he said.

Supporters hoped he was really recovering but then that was Raut, the editor of Saamna, who in all his years with the Shiv Sena, had learnt to talk Thyackeray’s language and anticipate his reactions to events almost correctly. So while Raut scolded people in Thackeray’s name, the Sena tiger was already losing the battle with life and not even conscious enough to acknowledge friends and family, let alone rage at rivals and enemies.

But now, though, Raut is trying hard to keep the Sena flag flying, there is really no sting to the Saamna’s exhortations and even Shiv Sainiks know not to take anything the Saamna says seriously anymore – or else they might get into trouble with the law, given that Thackeray is no longer there to bail them out of sticky situation.

That is what happened, then, when the Sena seemingly drove some Pakistani hockey players out of Bombay last week. The players were scheduled to play for the hockey league and Raut claimed credit for their exit – but that would not have happened had not the ruling Congress and the Nationalist Congress parties willed the same. The government, conscious of the national outrae over the beheading of two Indian soldiers on the Line of Control, did not want any law and order situation on their hands, so they actively encouraged the hockey league to decide against playing the Pakistani players in India.

A lot of my friends thought that was worng, that the Congress was once again showing signs of patronising the Shiv Sena to achieve its own slightly nefarious goals. But it is also true that the government has also been taking stern action against all the goonish elements in the Shiv Sena. In the first few weeks after Thackeray’s death, at least a dozen extortionists from both the Sena and its offshoot, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, were hauled up by the cops and slammed behind bars. That has led to the unique phenomenon of such elements actually come crawling on their knees to the complainants with pleas to withdraw their cases against them when, once upon a time, they would have beaten up or even killed such victims for daring to raise thier voices against the extortionists.

Ajit Pawar of the NCP is also on a shopping spree in Sena territory, claiming many heads in the last couple of months, adding to the gaps in the NCP presence in various areas and depriving the Sena of much of its intelligent middle-level leadership. And there is not a thing any top leader in the Shiv Sena has been ble to do to stem that bleeding.

I would not have believed that after nearly five decades of lording over his Marathi manoos, their loyalty to Thackeray would prove so transient. But that should not have been a surprise, really. For what is really Thackray’s legacy? A generation kept as underachievers, taught to snatch through brawn what they should have earned though brains, a life living on the edge and brushes with the law all the time?

It is no wonder, then, that Shiv Sainiks serious about their future and that of their children are seeking better options. It is early days yet and both Uddhav and Raj Thackeray could yet wake up to the potential threat to their raison d’etre and might be able to come up with something better and more resonating with the younger generation than just the 1960s agenda of `Mee Marathi and all else be damned’.

But then an all-encompassing and modernist agenda would not be Bal Thackeray’s legacy. And five decades could then just disappear into thin air… all too soon!

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