Parivaar politics

November 11, 2008

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

My latest column in Mint takes a look at how deep dynastic politics runs in India


The most startling thing to me about Congress party general secretary Margaret Alva’s outburst on television was not that she was criticizing her party at a public forum (rare in these days of sycophancy), or even the seriousness of her allegation that tickets in Karnataka were sold (and it’s a measure of our cynicism that we accept that this as not uncommon across political parties).

For me, the startling thing was that her complaint—her son had been overlooked for a party ticket in Karnataka, while the relatives of politicians in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan seemed to have no problem getting tickets—didn’t whip up a bigger storm.
Alva was not protesting against a system of patronage. Quite the opposite. Her argument: If the relatives of other politicians are given tickets to contest elections, then why not reward my son, too?

Holding Mumbai to ransom

October 26, 2008

Why attacking Bhaiyyas in Mumbai makes sense for Raj Thackeray — and why this makes sense to the ruling Congress-NCP alliance. S Balakrishnan in The Times of India.

Consider this. Most of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray’s business after Raj’s vast business associates are non-Marathis. His confindante, Sunil Harshe is based in Dubai, look after his vast interests in the UAE. Both Thackeray’s children are at English-medium schools. His son, who entered college this year, chose to study German instead of Marathi. When Thackeray was part of the Shiv Sena, he would often oblige non-Marathi contractors looking for work with the Sena-controlled Mumbai municipal corporation. Thackeray also smokes the best imported cigarettes and sips high-end Scotch and cognac. He loves to drive a Mercedes or Pajero and is a charming host even if his guests don’t speak Marathi. Raj Thackeray is the most cosmopolitan Mumbaikar one could meet at Shivaji Park, where he lives in an elegant penthouse.


Thackeray & Thackeray vs Bachchan & Khan

September 7, 2008

[Updated September 11]

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

First my column in the Hindustan Times, ‘Thuggery means always having to say sorry’

Hum UP ke log hain, hume Hindi mein baat karni chahiye
Jaya Bachchan at the promotion of Drona in Mumbai.


If you are from Delhi, then why have you come to Maharashtra?
– Bal Thackeray to Shah Rukh Khan in an editorial in Saamna

Actress and Rajya Sabha MP (Samajwadi Party) Jaya Bachchan’s apparently casual remark sparked off a furore, with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) declaring a boycott of all Bachchan films unless the actress apologised for ‘insulting’ the people of Maharashtra. With three Bachchan films due to be released over the next few weeks, Jaya Bachchan lost no time in saying how very sorry she was. No good, said Raj. The apology would have to be at a public forum in the presence of the Marathi media. It’s over to Mrs Bachchan now.


Now, for the Dramatis Personae

1. Bal Thackeray: cartoonist and founder of the Shiv Sena party that made much of Marathi asmita in the 1960s, chiefly targeting South Indians as the evil outsiders who had no business to be in the state. Now an ageing patriarch, he lives in a house calleed Matoshri (in Bandra) surrounded by armed guards and his son, Uddhav Thackeray. Also, edits a newspaper called Saamna where front-page editorials written by him are treated like the gospel. Latest target:  Shah Rukh Khan, who he says is a Delhi boy (“If you are from Delhi then why have you come to Maharashtra?”).

2. Raj Thackeray: nephew of Bal Thackeray, once very close, but once the uncle made it clear that his son, Uddhav was the true inheritor of the SS, Raj walked out of the party and of Matoshri to launch his own party called the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena. Now, Raj makes headlines by talking of Marathi asmita, but he is targetting North Indians (like Amitabh Bachchan) as the evil outsiders who have no business in the state.

3. Amitabh Bachchan: Bollywood’s icon-in-chief and, more recently, Big Blogger, was born in Allahabad (in Uttar Pradesh), stood for an election from there and, more recently, starred in a TV ad promoting the state (under his close friend, the then chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party). Recently said UP was his janmabhoomi while Mumbai was his karmabhoomi. Attacked by Raj in February for promoting UP; AB responded by saying the Constitution gave him the right to live where he chose. Very close to Thackeray senior who has defended him saying he is a big star who belongs to the entire nation, not to any particular state (unlike Shah Rukh who is merely a Dilliwala!).

4. Jaya Bachchan: Actress and Rajya Sabha member for the Samajwadi Party headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav (please see above). In February she clarified that she did not know any Raj Thackeray but that Bal Thackeray was like a father to her (and Uddhav, a son). Recently, sparked off an outrage by remarking, “Hum UP ke log hai, hume Hindi mein baat karni chahiye (we are from Uttar Pradesh and should speak in Hindi),” at a promotion for the film Drona, which stars her son, Abhishek. Raj Thackeray now wants all Bachchan films banned unless Jaya B apologies. With three Bachchan films scheduled for release, including The Last Lear this Friday (plans for its premiere are on hold), Jaya B was quick to say she was very sorry. Not good enough, says Raj. He wants a public apology.

5. Shah Rukh Khan: Bollywood’s other big icon (also called the Badshah of Bollywood) who, it is widely rumoured, has a long-standing rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan (roundly denied by both). He’s a Delhi boy who made good in Mumbai. Said to be also be close to the Congress party and to the Gandhi clan (with whom the Bachchans are katti, following Amitabh Bachchan’s growing proximity to Mulayam and the Samajwadi Party parivaar, with whom the Congress currently has an electoral understanding). Targeted by Bal Thackeray for coming to Maharashtra from Delhi to earn fame and wealth. (Read what BalT said here).

The Plot

The Uttar Pradesh-Maharashtra sons of the soil debate just got messier after an apparently off-the-cuff remark made by Jaya Bachchan, actress and Rajya Sabha MP (Samajwadi Party) on the sidelines of a film promotion.

That remark has united the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS), the parties headed by Bal and Raj Thackeray respectively. The uncle and nephew have not been seeing eye to eye and in a move seen as a direct revolt against Thackeray senior, Raj stormed out of the Shiv Sena and launched his MNS party in 2006.

Ever since, Raj has been an angry young man (a role played to perfection by Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya’s husband) in search of a just cause. But why reinvent the wheel? Raj merely picked up where his uncle had left off, taking on the role of messiah for Marathi asmita (pride) and the Marathi manoos.

So, while Bal Thackeray cut his political teeth in Maharashtra by attacking such undesirable ‘outsiders’ as Tamilians and other South Indians, Raj has concentrated on North Indian ‘bhaiyya and bania’ outsiders.

In February this year, Raj managed to provoke responses from Lalu Yadav, the rail minister from Bihar and Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar (who called Raj a shaitan) with his remarks on North Indians who celebrate festivals like chhat puja in Maharashtra.

At around the same time, he also managed to draw Amitabh Bachchan into his little soap opera by claiming that Bachchan — Indian cinema’s biggest icon ever — seemed more concerned about Uttar Pradesh (he was born in Allahabad, stood for a Lok Sabha election from there and is currently very close to Mulayam Singh Yadav, the former chief minister whose party has given his wife a ticket in the Upper House).

Amitabh responded by declaring loftily that the Constitution granted him the right to live and work wherever he chose in India. Jaya went a step further by declaring that she did not know any Raj Thackeray. “I know Bal Thackeray who is like a father to me and his son, Uddhav who is like my son,” she said, dismissing the ousted nephew.

Now, the nephew is on the rampage saying no film starring any Bachchan will be allowed to be released unless Jaya apologises for her language remark and for ‘insulting’ the Marathi people. Incidentally, Drona stars both Abhishek and Jaya Bachchan, while Amitabh Bachchan’s The Last Lear is scheduled for a Friday, September 12 release. Plans for its premiere have been put on hold.

Amitabh Bachchan has chosen to respond to this particular controversy on his blog (see response here). But the stand-off remains.

But in a strange twist of events, the Shiv Sena has also got drawn into the controversy with a party spokesman declaring that Jaya should go to states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala and propagate Hindi there. Having said that, Bal Thackeray has now clarified that Amitabh Bachchan is a star who belongs to all of India, while Shah Rukh Khan — Bachchan’s chief rival who is close to the Congress party and the younger Gandhis– is a Dilliwala who basically has no business to be in Mumbai.

For the full story on Reuters click here.

Safe to say, you haven’t heard the last word on this one.

City of dreadful knights

May 7, 2008

Sagarika Ghose in the Hindustan Times says regional chauvanism rather than urban infrastructure is the priority of politicians who control cities like Mumbai and Bangalore

Ah, the great Indian city! The lack of urban infrastructure destroying the infrastructure of the human soul. By 2020 Mumbai will have a population of 20 million. Bangalore, already with 6.5 million inhabitants has seen phenomenal growth. Three hundred million Indians live in urban areas; the figure will spurt by 40 per cent in the next 11 years. Whatever the rural romantics may say, India’s future is irreversibly urban. Mumbai and Bangalore are symbols of the urban Indian dream, the first, whose present chief minister claims will be a new Shanghai, the second, which a former CM wanted to make into another Singapore.

But forget Shanghai and Singapore, which instead are the voices that are speaking the loudest for the Indian city? The new voices that are yelling into the urban skyline are anything but urbane or metropolitan. In Mumbai, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has declared war on north Indians, mimicking what he calls their strange accents, noisy pujas, nasty civic manners and demanding preferential treatment in jobs for local Maharashtrians. Raj Thackeray wants north Indians out of Mumbai. In Bangalore, as the campaign for the forthcoming assembly elections gathers momentum, another ‘son of the soil’ is also demanding reservations for locals. H.D. Deve Gowda’s political manifesto demands 30 per cent reservation of jobs in the infotech and biotech sectors for local Kannadigas.


The improbable friends of Raj Thackeray

February 17, 2008

Raj Thackeray’s core supporters include IITians, economists, doctors and lawyers, writes Manu Joseph in The Times of India

raj-thackeray1.jpgIt can be proved that every Hindi film that has been described by its director as, “a metaphor,” has flopped. Because it is a language from exile, a hint that the speaker does not dwell in the same world where tickets are sold. This was also the reason why six IITians who launched a political party in Chennai became a joke. “Reality is a continuum,” they said on their website. They were pitted against Karunanidhi who promised a free colour television for almost all.

Where Raj Thackeray belongs, is unambiguous. So, it is at first hard to accept that in a congregation of young men and women whom he had handpicked to be his inner circle, the English expressions that fill the air are, ‘Symbiotic tie of a migrant’, ‘Disequilibrium’, ‘Social frigidity’, and even, ‘Diphthong’. This is so different from the unmistakable prose of politics. Agar hamare raastey mein aaya toh patak dunga usko , said Abu Azmi a few days ago. Karke to dekho , replied Thackeray.


Democracy loses if Thackeray’s rampage is not checked

February 13, 2008

Deny thugs like Raj Thackeray the oxygen of publicity, appeals sociology professor Dipankar Gupta to the media in the Mail Today

Before the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) activists hit out at taxi drivers and push cart vendors, they messaged a willing media to carry their message. They waited till cameras were in place, some even with tripods, before they struck out at their targeted victims. Television and media crew duly obliged the MNS’s call as if they were reporting for duty. As nothing was filtered away, the photographed images took on a surreal carnival like look. MNS became an instant media event and the hapless north Indian migrants of Mumbai paid the price for it. But there is a larger lesson in all of this. Not only is it possible now for a struggling politician to become an instant media figure, but the minoritisation of an entire community is just a phone call away.



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