Read previous episodes of the Grouse Questionnaire .
OMG, it’s astonishing how many liberals and bohos are now rooting for the essential Marathi manoos, now aamchi manoos: Uddhav Thackeray. So much so that the mild-mannered chief minister of Maharashtra – also the inheritor and chief of the once bigoted and parochial Shiv Sena – might soon inspire “I Love Uddhav Thackeray” t-shirts and latte mugs.
Along with his coalition colleagues in the state, including the irrepressible NCP minister Nawab Malik, Thackeray has scooped up the prize in the political sweepstakes this week in the course of a high-octane drug bust case. Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood badshah Shah Rukh Khan, was flung into prison for three weeks and more by the Narcotics Control Bureau. This is now unravelling as a dubious, fabricated case with unproven charges and allegations, with an unjust and unfair prison term.
So, welcome to the Grouse Questionnaire, where opposition party leaders are asked probing and searing questions on whether they are to seriously challenge the Modi-led government in state elections and the 2024 general election, and their answers are also given based on their dealings, strategies and motives. This time, it’s none other than Thackeray who has once again taken a sly shot at the might and muscle of the Modi government which is, of course, run by the Big Two: Modi and his home minister Amit Shah.
Let’s see how.
What has the Aryan Khan case got to do with Thackeray?
First of all, let’s be clear: the NCB is a central agency directly under the home minister, Amit Shah. So, all NCB orders and instructions are directed by and reported to the home ministry. Across states, the NCB swoops down and, with its zonal officers, mostly from union public services offices, can pick up and arrest people on criminal charges of dealing in the illegal procurement and sale of narcotic substances.
Over the last three weeks and more, ever since the arrest of Aryan Khan and two of friends, all hell has broken loose. There have been charges and counter charges of extortion and blackmail against the arresting NCB officers, notably Sameer Wankhede, with witnesses accusing the officer of forced signatures on blank papers. Meanwhile, Nawab Malik has provided non-stop stunning revelations on a daily basis of Wankhede’s forged documents on his religion and caste status that gave him out-of-turn appointment in the services.
Did Thackeray put the NCB on the backfoot by unleashing the Mumbai police on the agency’s officers?
Yes, as soon as the accusations against Wankhede began to fly, the Mumbai police to set up a team to investigate four complaints against the agency, including the Aryan Khan case, apart from arresting the NCB’s prime witness and the , he of the infamous selfie with Aryan. The Mumbai police has also , yet another “witness” who accompanied Wankhede in the drug bust raid.
The Mumbai police’s determination to expose the NCB and its alleged trumped-up case – read the home ministry – is already seeing the agency leaping to claim that it was not involved. Speculative reports are already popping up in the national media hinting that Wankhede was not acting on orders from Delhi but on his own, for which he has full authority to do so.
now say that though the agency’s headquarters had received news about drugs on the cruise ship, they abandoned the operation as the quantity was minimal and there was no big fish to catch. Meanwhile, even as the Mumbai police is investigating all the accusations against the cruise ship raiding team, the NCB also looked into allegations against Wankhede and cleared him, saying there was no truth in these allegations.
But the agency’s top brass is yet to clarify whether Wankhede will continue to supervise the Aryan case in the investigations ahead.
Is this why liberals and bohos are rooting for Thackeray?
If an enemy’s enemy is a friend, then Modi-Shah’s bête noire – Thackeray – is an accomplice for libs, surely?
In other words, only the Sena can pay back the BJP in equal measure in the language and racket it understands. After all, it was Thackeray alone who walked away with the Maharashtra victory, leaving behind a stunned Amit Shah being the loser for the first time. It was an incredible feat, as it is usually Shah who snatches an election victory wherever the BJP has lost the polls.
Why did the Sena-BJP alliance completely break down?
Uddhav was initially overshadowed by his father and later by his cousin Raj. The latter was seen as the true inheritor of “Bal” Thackeray’s chauvinistic swagger, but he has now fallen by the wayside. And Uddhav surprised everyone when he even after the two parties emerged as the single largest grouping in the last state election of 2019. All this because the BJP reneged on a deal that the chief minister’s chair would be given to the Sena, even though the BJP has shouted from the rooftops that there was no such poll deal.
However, Thackeray, along with his new mentor, the NCP’s old fox Sharad Pawar, cobbled together an alliance with the Congress too to form the bizarre and contradictory Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance that is now in power in Maharashtra and seems firmly in the saddle.
Sena leaders close to Thackeray say he’s a man of all reasons. He may not be political, they say uncharitably; Uddhav does not plan or strategise his political moves for the long run. But he believes in short-term strategy and gains, and acts for the moment. As one leader said, Uddhav believes in crossing a bridge only when he comes to it.
But the Sena has been making tender noises to the BJP?
Yes, off and on, Thackeray has made some friendly noises. But it was always addressed to a BJP party member, never about reigniting the old alliance, even as a predatory BJP grabs at these straws, and hoping to crack the MVA government in the state.
With three years to go, Uddhav has been very clear of late that the MVA government will last its full term, because his antipathy towards Modi-Shah is so acute that any possible rapprochement and reconciliation is out of the question.
Why? According to sources, despite the earlier jousting and brawling of an old alliance, matters came to a real head, and all pretences of former friendship evaporated in an instant, when the centre to drag in Uddhav’s son – the 34-year-old Aaditya Thackeray, who is tourism minister in his father’s government – into the media-hyped death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Rajput’s death swung precariously between homicide and suicide before finally sinking without a trace.
Though the none of its leaders had ever made this allegation, there was pitched speculation on Aaditya’s supposed presence at Rajput’s residence on the night before his death, especially after the CBI, a central agency, took over the case. After all, Rajput’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty was also picked up and incarcerated for one month in prison, despite no evidence against her.
It was the final straw for Uddhav, who saw it as yet another diabolical attempt by the centre to bring him to his knees. He swore never to go to the BJP, at least until the MVA term is over. After all, you don’t have to be a friend or enemy in politics, only a frenemy.
It’s not just Uddhav ’s son Aaditya who has been in the news. There’s a lot of chatter about his wife Rashmi’s clout and power.
The BJP has made by Rashmi, and there’s a lot of chatter about the “real CM’s office”. But it’s a bit rich, considering former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s wife, Amruta, not only appeared in video promos for the BJP government but also took on her husband’s detractors.
It is that Rashmi was the only other person present during the meeting between her husband and Shah during the coalition government talks that finally broke down. Rashmi has already taken over the editorship of her father-in-law’s party paper, Saamna, and also magazine Marmik.
Media reports point out how Rashmi’s have all been inducted into the MVA power structure. Her sister Swati’s husband, Satish Sardesai, is a political mediator. Swati’s son, Varun Sardesai, is and controls access to Aaditya. Rashmi’s younger brother, Shridhar Patankar, is in the real estate business.
But has Uddhav really become non-parochial and secular, much to the delight of the libs?
Uddhav reacts, not acts, as has been seen so far. But he has been on the lib side in many issues. The Sena went into a slanging match with a Bollywood actor, who’s now a mascot of the Modi-Shah regime. Both sides indulged in name-calling: Kangana called Sena , Uddhav apparently called her , among other choice invectives. Kangana ran to the court for reprieve and even for her troubles.
Then there was the escapade involving news anchor Arnab Goswami. He was ; he also faced lawsuits for his provocative, untruthful, rabble-rousing television programmes. Uddhav warmed up Mumbai’s environmental conservationist citizens when his government from the sensitive Aarey to Kanjurmarg.
The Shiv Sena also first supported the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha before it abstained from voting in the Rajya Sabha, because of Uddhav’s so-called secular alliance partners in the MVA. He , saying no one needed to fear the bill.
Come on, Uddhav has not acted at all on real issues that trouble real progressives.
Yes, that’s true. He did not utter a word of protest when the National Investigation Agency, a central agency, took over the Elgar Parishad case. The NIA Act allows it to suo motu take over a scheduled offence in any state, thus violating the federal structure of the constitution.
: nine activists and lawyers, from renowned academics to scholars, were arrested by the previous BJP-Sena government by the Maharashtra police in 2018 for allegedly inciting people at a meeting in Pune on December 31, 2017, which allegedly led to caste violence in Bhima Koregaon the next day. Today, the NIA has charged them with deadly crimes, from sedition to being dreaded Maoists fighting to break up the country to conspiring to assassinate Modi. They are still in prison under the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, many of them with failing health and creeping age.
Uddhav’s aversion and antagonism towards Maoists, “urban naxals” and their ilk was out in the open in the inhuman handling of , 84, one of the accused. His family desperately and repeatedly requested emergency medical treatment for the ailing Jesuit. The MVA government repeatedly refused to expedite Swamy’s treatment, even though prison is a state subject.
After months of negligence and apathy, Father Stan finally died in custody.
The latest instance is the Mumbai police of comedian Munawar Faruqui last week after Hindutva thugs threatened to burn down the venue if the shows were not cancelled. As Faruqui, who had earlier this year for “insulting Hindu gods and goddesses”, , “Hate won.”
Is Uddhav today swinging wildly between Marathi manoos and Hindutva? Is the Sena now about regional chauvinism or Hindutva nationalism, or both?
For Uddhav, Marathi chauvinism is really about hitting out at Gujarati dominance, read the duo in the centre, Modi and Shah. Regional chauvinism may get votes in the city of Mumbai, where Maharashtrians look alarmingly at the growing Gujarati domination, whether in population, financial sector or industry. Uddhav has watched the Sena being increasingly subordinate to the BJP year after year and has feared a BJP takeover if he did not act fast. After all, the BJP almost trumped the Sena in the last municipal election in the city, and the Sena has resisted the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train connectivity for the same reasons.
The Sena’s Hindutva colours are seen in Uddhav’s dedication to the Ram temple movement in Ayodhya. But while Uddhav made public promises of going for the temple’s bhoomi puja in Ayodhya, he finally refrained, though he announced a personal donation of Rs 1 crore for the disputed temple construction as a bhakt, .
Uddhav has been oscillating between regional appeal and Hindutva to voters. But in the Hindutva sweepstakes, the BJP seems to run away with victory. Political analysts believe that with the MVA alliance, Uddhav gets to keep the Marathi regionalism flag flying high even as he woos Muslims, a sizable voter bloc, as a counter to the BJP to expand the Sena’s side.
How is Uddhav wooing the Muslims?
The MVA government has set up over half a dozen in the state with generous grants, the idea being to promote cultural relations between Urdu and Marathi, apart from looking at reviving the Urdu Sahitya Academy, promoting Urdu literature and poetry, and encouraging Urdu scholars.
Can Uddhav catapult to the centrestage beyond the Marathi manoos pitch?
Like Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, Uddhav too is the “my Hindutva is the real Hindutva” as opposed to the BJP’s “fake Hindutva”. Even as he hurled “gaumutra and gobar Hindutva” sneers at the BJP, he accused the BJP yet again of using Hindutva to climb to power and now using it to divide and rule. The attempt is to clearly woo the Hindu vote which the BJP polarises every time before an election to its advantage.
Is Goa going to be the Sena’s potboiler for its new Hindutva?
The Sena has said it will contest 22-25 seats in the coming state election and is determined to split the Hindu vote and trump the BJP in the state. Its is calling the BJP the “real beef party”, as the BJP has cowardly refused to ban beef to cling to power even as it has gone on a murderous rampage in the rest of the country.
It seems Uddhav has real beef with the BJP and has raised the stakes for Modi and Shah.
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