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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