Years ago after a rather scintillating interview with Bal Thackeray, I thought I had a sort of `scoop’ of the century. The Shiv Sena was ruling Maharashtra in alliance with the BJP and the 13 day government of Atal Behari Vajpayee had just reinstated the Srikrishna commission probing the 1992-93 Bombay riots, which had earlier been dismissed by the state government. Thackeray was livid. He sent for me when I called him for a reaction – it was worth every minute spent at Matoshree to watch him letting off steam. I recorded the entire interview. Read more

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If any one wishes to understand the meaning of the phrase `free for all’ in its full import, they need only look at Maharashtra since the break up of the two alliances, the Shiv Sena-BJP and the Congress-NCP. Everything has gone haywire since the two divorces and party lines are blurred. Caught unawares just less than 48 hours before nominations closed, no party bar the Congress seemed to have canidadtes of its own for all the 288 assembly seats. So all have been poaching right royally from the others – NCP men have moved to the Shiv Sena, BJP and MNS, in some places joined hands with the Congress. The BJP has borrowed liberally from the Congress, the MNS from the Shiv Sena, the Sena from the BJP and the NCP from the Congress, giving a new meaning to the term `import-export’. No one is now certain how it will all pan out and which party will lead the stakes at the end of the polls.

Analysts are confused and I wonder if the voters will finally be able to make sense. I had always advocated for long that the four political parties in Maharashtra should go it alone to test their respective strengths but even I had not accounted for the amount of bitterness that would entail. The BJP has the maximum at stake at these elections and so is cautious in its criticism of the Shiv Sena. The Congress has a weak leadership and is, moreover, led by a gentleman (Prithviraj Chavan) and so ignores the NCP. But the NCP and the Sena are at the throats of their former allies, calling them names and offering every insult under the sun to their former allies – I wonder where this will all stop.

But it is the Sena which is acting as the wounded tiger in his game. I wonder where its advice is coming from but am surprised to see the party mouthpiece with a new spin on the BJP every day. They have called the party pro-Gujarati (because both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are from the neighbouring state), tried to raise the 1960s bogey of Gujarati domination of Bombay, described the party as renegade and now denied that the BJP has any right to profess the Maharashtrian culture. I wonder if any one party can quite be entruted with the exclusive custody of any culture anywhere – if so that is a sure fire way of inviting cultural terrorism and moral policing and I do not thnk any one would appreciate that.

Yet the Sena is appropriating to itself the moral right to represent the people of Maharashtra and giving offence to the BJP on its inability to do so. But when party leaders make statements like that they should sit back and think if they represent all of Maharashtra or just Mahsrashtrians alone. For Maharashtra, over the past decades, has become a very cosmopolitan state and at least in Bombay, the state capital, local Marashtrians are in a minority — just about 40 per cent of the populations. At one time anti-Gujarati an anti-South Indian, the city has been taken over by Uttar Bharatiyas and its a toss up as to whether the north Indians, including large sections of Muslims, will vote for the Congress or the BJP – they will certainly not root for the Shiv Sena and the MNS which has been systematically targeting North Indians both Hindu and Muslim over the past few years.

Outside of Bombay the Sena has diminishing influence – in Marathwada it exists because a of an anti-Dalit sentiment, in Vidarbha it is sparse but mostly exists vecause of its fierce opposition to a separate Vidarbha from Maharashtra. I will do well in the Konkan but the BJP will override the Shiv Sena in the Khandesh and Western Maharashtra is essentially Congress-NCP turf. So how does the Shiv Sena become the custodian of all these people of Maharashtra?

It is my reasoned opinion that in this one-upmanship, neither the Sena nor the BJP know where they are going. The only leader of consequence on the campaign trial is Sharad Pawar but since he is not a candidate for chief minister, it is doubtful if his nephew Ajit Pawar will be able to enthuse the voters much. Uddhav Thackeray is not what his father used to be and his cousin Raj Thackeray makes some attractive noises but has essentially been reduced into a non-entity. The BJP has a star campaigner in Modi but he cannot be a chief minister of the state and the party has no worthies in that department, The only leader with a credible image then is Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress but he is a novice at the game and is battling his first election, quite all on his own. One does not know how well he has understood Maharashtra and if at all he will be able to combat the veterans in this game.

That is why I say the game is undecided till he end . It is now open season in Maharashtra.

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In the end, it was almost anti-climactic. Leaders of the Congress were completely unsurprised at the Nationalist Congress Party’s decision to break away from its 15 year old alliance. And Congress workers who had been urging their party leaders for yeas to do the same were delighted. Read more

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On Teachers’ Day today, I can see a lot of tributes being paid by all people to all their teachers. I learnt a lot from most of them but the tributes I saw got me thinking if there was any one in particular that I could pick out as particularly influencing my life, education and career – sadly in early life and school days I cannot think of one. Read more

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I know I should be outraging about both the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party getting their flag codes wrong this Independence Day but I guess the laws are good enough to deal with such mistakes. Serves them both right, I would say, for they be always acting more holier than thou – and everybody else. The mistake only shows up how much attention they are really paying to the nation and its emblems.

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During the course of an interview that I was conducting with him some years ago, I remember actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha nearly jumped from his chair, electrified as I broke into Hindi. Read more

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After the BJP wins nearly a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it seems a bit much for BJP leader Vijay Goel to threaten migrants from these states with deportation/prevention of free movement into Delhi – it reminds me of the time when Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had made a similar statement soon after his party came to power in Maharashtra. Read more

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What a state of flux Maharashtra’s politics seems to be in – I have always heard that there can be no permanent friends or enemies in politics but here, on the western shores of India, the dividing lines seem to be etched in acid with no room for crossovers. Read more

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I must begin by disclosing my vested interest in writing this particular blog post. Some might call it a plug (which in a way it is) but I wished to familiarise a wider readership with Bal Thackeray and what he really was and meant to Bombay and Maharashtra – and that is why I wrote the book “Hindu Hriday Samrat : How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever’’. Read more

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Sometime in the late 1990s, I remember, the Bombay police had rounded up a load of ‘Bangladeshis’ and packed them off to the borders of West Bengal by the Bombay-Howrah Express as part of the Shiv Sena-BJP government’s commitment to ridding the nation of these migrants from the neighbouring country. Read more

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