Monday, October 20, 2008


"Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it." In today's Maharashtra it is difficult to believe that these inspiring words were thundered by a Maharashtrian, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, to rouse and awaken the whole of India against colonial rule. "Maharashtra is for Marathi manoos (men/people)." This is the "manhoos" (cursed/foreboding evil) call being given in free India by the 'T' company to terrorise Indians from other parts of India who have either made Maharashtra their home or want to go there looking for opportunities that promise a better future.

Today, if you want something done in Mumbai, you need not go to the 'D' company run by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. He has been upstaged by the 'T' company of the Thackerays, now effectively being run by Raj Thackeray, the breakaway and hyper-ambitious nephew of the original supremo of the Shiv Sena, Balasaheb Thackeray. Unlike Dawood who is hiding in Pakistan and runs his operations underworld from there, don Raj lives in Mumbai and runs his gang 'overworld' in brazen defiance of the rule of law.

So, if you want your lost job back, all you have to do is dial 'T'. Raj will immediately and openly declare that he will not let your employer run his business in Maharashtra, and your employer will suddenly discover his paternal feelings for your tears and take you back. If you want to make sure that as a Maharashtrian you stand the best chance of getting a job in a central government job, dial 'T again. Raj's goons will promptly beat up all non-Maharashtrians taking that exam, leaving the field clear for you. If you want to see the film industry being brought to its knees and grinding its North Indian nose on the ground beneath the feet of the new Raj, you have to do nothing at all! Some film star just has to act as brand ambassador of a North Indian state or speak at a public function in Hindi, to face losses running into crores of rupees.

There is a limit to everything. But in Maharashtra, particularly in amchi (our) Mumbai, limits are broken every day with utter contempt for rules that mark civilised behaviour in any society . The Shiv Sena was always known for using strong arm tactics to intimidate others to get command of its founder, Balashaeb Thackeray, obeyed. But ever since Raj Thackeray fell out with him, when he chose his son over him as his successor, and launched his own political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), competitive bullying and terrorising has gone completely out of control.

Raj Thackeray, to save himself from political oblivion, quickly took to exploiting the 'pride of Marathis' card after the split, to upstage the Shiv Sena . The attacks on North Indians early this year, the call for a ban on 'Chhat Puja' by them and the general vitriol against migrants by him has dramatically changed the socio-political scenario in Mumbai. And, as has become the norm now in India's political landscape, other political parties have reacted predictably by taking his agenda a step forward, out of fear of losing their Maharashtrian votes. As a result of this competitive pandering, Jayant Patil, finance minister of the state has already announced that 80 per cent of jobs will be reserved for Maharashtrians in all new projects that will come up in the state.

That is just the kind of encouragement that is needed by an 'overworld' don to unleash his reign of terror even more aggressively. Every one knows what Raj did to the Bachchans. Every one also saw the fake tears of Naresh Goyal after Raj threatened that he would not allow Jet Airways to fly from Mumbai unless the sacked employees were taken back. The disturbing visuals of Raj's boys beating up non-Maharashtrians who wanted to take the Railways exam have also not been missed by anyone who watches TV.

There is no doubt that as elections get closer, more of these terrorising tactics of Raj's 'T' company will be on display. This is an ominous sign whose ramifications will be disastrous.

Dr Manmohan Singh has announced that Mumbai, India's financial capital, will be made into another Shanghai. Will it? Can it? While the Prime Minister, an honest apolitical leader, sincerely wants that to happen, his party, the Congress, is working overtime to see that Mumbai and Maharashtra suffer a fate worse than West Bengal did when the commies took over that state decades ago, forcing the industry to flee from there en masse.

It is clear that Raj Thackeray is being made to look bigger than the slight man that he is only because of the support of the ruling Congress party and Sharad Pawar's NCP. The Congress has not learnt any lesson from Punjab. There, it promoted Bhindranwale to counter the Akalis. Not only did the Congress get nothing out of that horrible misadventure, the people and the state of Punjab suffered enormously after Bhindranwale decided to turn back on the Congress and write his own gory script. Raj Thackeray is the Congress party's Bhindranwale in Maharashtra. The party thinks it can use him to cut the Shiv Sena down and win the next elections, just as it thought would in Punjab.

Raj Thackeray has not started his own 'T' company just to become a poodle of the Congress. Had his ambition been so small, he would have been bigger within the Shiv Sena. He wants to occupy the complete space of that party and make it irrelevant. If the Congress keeps pandering to him as it is doing and keeps allowing him to get bigger and bigger and emerge as the final arbiter of all disputes in Maharashtra, it will only create another Frankenstein who, in his madness, will cause unprecedented damage to the societal and industrial environment of Maharashtra, and harm the Congress politically very badly.

A few days back, when Ratan Tata was looking for an alternative site for the Nano car, Maharashtra was a serious option. To me, it was clear even then - and this is before Raj threatened Jet Airways - that Maharashtra had no chance. After the Jet episode, be sure that Maharashtra is going to lose tens of thousands of crores worth of fresh investments which will fly to states where they will not be so terrorised blatantly by an 'overworld' mafia that is now dictating the agenda in Maharashtra. Even industrialists present in Maharashtra will look at least for expansion plans elsewhere.

Raj's 'macho' threats and actions might be causing some Maharashtrian chests to puff up in misplaced pride. That is exactly the kind of surrender of their mind that he wants. That air in the lungs is not going to get them or the state anywhere. A look at the kind of damage that just one act of Mamata Bannerjee has caused to West Bengal should have set the alarm bells ringing in the minds of those who truly care about Maharashtra and Maharashtrians. And about India.

It is time for Maharashtrians to remember the immortal words of Tilak. It is time for them to realise that the 'T' company, with the active complicity of Tilak's party, the Congress, is on the verge of destroying the vision and dream that got India freedom and gave all Indians the right to call the whole of India their home. It is time for them to choose between the terror of parochialism gone mad and the promise that the vision of an inclusive India holds for them and indeed the whole of India.
Readers may also read: The vortex of competitive intolerance