Need to look beyond the power struggle in Maharashtra

Uddhav Thackeray

The recent political upheaval in Maharashtra is being seen mainly in a conventional way as a power struggle. But there is a serious need to go beyond that. One should never forget that the Shiv Sena is the creation of the Congress in the 1960s to defeat the then strong Communist movement, then came the murder of Communist MLA Krishna Desai by Shiv Sena in 1970.The wheels have been changing since then and we are paying the price now.

It is true that injustice was done to the Marathi Manoos in job recruitment and there was a lot of discontent which was channelised in a very negative way.

It is also true that Uddhav Thackeray was sober and fairly popular as chief minister. But in the last few years governance has suffered, the home minister Anil Deshmukh himself was involved in a major corruption scandal and was arrested.

But from the common people’s perspective the most ominous occurrence the day before the resignation drama was a building collapse in Kurla in Mumbai in which 19 people were killed and the numbers may rise.

It shows the extreme economic polarisation taking place in Mumbai and elsewhere. Opulent constructions have been coming up for the rich in an arrogant, In Your Face sort of way and on the other the construction workers involved in the biggest capitalist enterprise, the construction industry, are getting the worst deal. Several of these workers were from the construction industry, those building houses for the rich are treated most miserably by contractors.

The poor are being killed in large numbers by automobiles , India is on top of the chart in road crash deaths. And there are numerous other such deaths , killing in other sectors.

Many of our intellectuals are very active and rightly in social media against communal violence of the Hindutva elements . But there is generally a strange silence on the deaths of lakhs of innocent people due to other causes .As if these do not matter at all.

Our politics need to be completely reoriented, going much beyond power and election politics. So also the orientation of the media.

There is a steady deterioration in the living conditions of ordinary workers following the decline of trade unions and the organised industries. A fairly decent accommodation was part of life at least for a few workers in the past. This was most visible as one passed by train past the sprawling Godrej industrial empire with its housing quarters in Vikhroli suburb in Mumbai.

The contract system is multiplying, the workers wages are low and many workers I have talked to complained that they are not being paid for months even while the contractor makes a big profit .

About the new chief minister Eknath Shinde, the dissident Sena man. Though he is from Thane on the outskirts of Mumbai, he is little known to many in Mumbai, especially to Mumbai’s corporate class. He seems to have done very well for himself. Here is a media report. No school or hospital but Shinde’s remote village in Satara district has two helipads. That is the heading of a good news story in Indian Express, Mumbai edition, recently.

Fine. But does it take a political crisis for the media to tell such a story about Mr Shinde ? It is time the media reorients is political coverage True there are problems, sometimes the managements themselves are corrupt and want to suppress stories. And there are problems at other levels.

It is also time for readers to assert their right to get impartial news.

Just as the Shiv Sena dumbed down politics, the media has done its own bit in dumbing down.

It is a bit curious that Mr Julius Ribeiro, former Mumbai police commissioner, has strongly defended Aaditya Thackeray in an article in Lokstta in Marathi on June 28 and in Indian Express the day in the current controversy.

In the last parahe says Aaditya may be unwittingly responsible for the rebellion.The rebels did not like his elevation.. He says Aaditya has a modern way of thinking and it appeals to him

Mr Ribeiro says there is nothing wrong in Uddhav wanting Aaditya to succeed him as chief minister. Our elite does not seem to realise that there is something undemocratic about such a stance.

And then Mr Suraj Yengde’s column in Indian Express. Strangely, he says most Sena leaders are Brahmins. Where did he get this from ? Anyone familiar with state politics would not agree there. Yes, Mr Manohar Joshi was a major leader in the party but that was long ago, he is too old now and hardly figures in the party politics these days. Sudhir Joshi faded long ago due to ill health. Among the present lot there is hardly any prominent Brahmin in the party.

And strangely, Mr Yengde repeatedly refers to Bal Thackeray’s father as Keshav, technically he is right, but the father is always referred to as Prabodhankar. Even Prabodhankar’s contemporaries did not refer to him as Keshav.

Eknath Shinde, now at the centre of politics, is featured prominently in the Marathi film Dharmaveer running since last month. He was a favourite of Anand Dighe, a Shiv Sena leader with a cult following in Thane district. Shinde was then a corporator in the city and Dighe predicts that one day he will become the education minister in Maharashtra. Shinde apparently developed bigger ambition after that.

The film also shows the tragic drowning of his son and daughter during a boat joy ride. Dighe shares Shinde’s grief.

The earliest case of cross voting in Sena ranks took place in Thane during the Mayoral election. Sridhar Khopkar, corporator, was murdered as a punishment and Dighe was in jail under TADA in that case.

Dighe was the earliest Hindu militant in the Sena, the initial scene in the film shows him actively targeting Muslims during riots but the film ends on a more positive note with his helping a Muslim family.

Dighe, projected as a man of principles in the film, also nearly strangulates a Shiv Sena corporator for flaunting a new car within six months of his election, for indulging in corruption.

Compared to the present lot, there were much better leaders in the Sena in those days. But even then the rot had started leading to the quitting of former Mumbai Mayor Dr Hemchandra Gupte.

I attended meeting on environment on June 20 where Aaditya Thackeray was scheduled to speak as environment minister. Understandably, he did not turn up because that also happened to be the day of the crucial legislative council election which ultimately rocked the Shiv Sena. There was no explanation at the conference about his absence but one could understand. That day was perhaps Aaditya’s last working day as environment minister because after that came the political storm.

The meeting was on the clean air action plan of Maharashtra and was dominated by American officials. One was shocked to find that for such a simple aspect as pollution control our government depends upon the United States Agency for International Development USAID. And we talk of Atmanirbhar.

That apart on Aaditya. One must say in fairness he is articulate in English, Marathi and possibly in Hindi as well and most people would like to do business with him , rather than someone like Eknath Shinde.

But for real politics you require grassroots experience. Perhaps one should not judge Aaditya harshly, he is young and promising but his role in the current crisis or earlier days does not appear to have been examined in media reports or analysis.

He enjoyed virtually a number two position in the government in some ways, this was most obvious in sitting arrangements on stage in public rallies or in photograhs in government advertisements in newspapers.And this must not have gone down well with seniors, more than double his age or others.

Now another crucial test for all the parties will come in the municipal elections in Mumbai and other centres due in the next few months with multiple parties in the fray including the new faction of the Sena.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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