Raj Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Maharashtra Government
Let me open this post with saying something no one has the guts to voice. The government should be down on hands and knees in gratitude to Raj Thackeray that there was no violence during the MNS Morcha. There wasn’t a thing the government could have done to prevent Raj Thackeray marching from Girgaum Chowpatty to Azad Maidan in spite of permissions being categorically denied. The police discontent was reaching near mutiny levels, the anger of the people was beyond reason, and the government didn’t have a foot to stand on on the whole subject.
In my view, responsibility for enforcing laws, or – like the Emperor in the Little Prince – making laws that will get obeyed lies solidly with the government. We didn’t give them permission, but they still did it – doesn’t wash. Raj Thackeray and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena broke the law, yes. But the ease with which law could be broken being demonstrated was equally important if anyone is taking notes at all.
They did the only thing they could have done. Denied permissions knowing full well they couldn’t prevent. That denial gave them the fig leaf of plausible deniability if the protest had indeed turned violent. Raj Thackeray ruthlessly called the bluff, and this is where the whole country should be grateful to him, instead of criticizing, because this was the moment when the reality of the Mumbai police force was stark naked for anyone to see. Police marched along with the protest in spite of all earlier threats with not so much as a token request as to not break the law. The government couldn’t afford to rattle this cage – for security reasons. An absolute hostage situation.
Raj Thackeray’s protest did several things I think our lazy news media is too incompetent to see. Or unwilling. There was anger on the streets. Anger against the government. Anger against the Mumbai Police Commissioner. I admit to feeling very worried on the potential for Hindu-Muslim clashes. Online, at least, the Hindutva brigade were busy fanning the flames of outrage. They probably were honestly outraged, however, their contempt for Muslims didn’t help the expectation for communal harmony. People from the northeast were fleeing several cities.
Many have pointed to this as a political move by the Congress to weaken the BJP and Shiv Sena. This is a myopic view. Organizing demands for sacking crucial people as strategy is desperate at best and unlikely. However, in my view, this was still a very, very smart political view. It capitalized on all the outrage the hardworking BJP media efforts had rustled up, and channeled it into a solution that achieved several important things.
- Expressing the outrage. Letting it find voice and victory in a way that did no damage to life and property. Just read news reports since then. One day before, one day after – forget longer. There is a marked difference in the perception of an unstable, precarious society. Not just in Mumbai.
- This is definitely a loss for BJP, whose supporters successfully raised outrage (at times recklessly and at the cost of social harmony), but the party failed to present itself as any kind of solution to the problem they pointed out, and Raj stepped into the opportunity to take the free hit – literally. In my view, he can’t be blamed for this. If a politician will not take an opportunity, can he be called competent at all? Ironically, the few supporters of MNS I do know, were relatively calm, though everyone was criticizing. In fact at least two helped debunk disinformation spread about “Pakistan flag hoisted by Mumbai Muslims” rumors. Whether this was intended or unintentional is irrelevant. It didn’t appear to me that the ShivSena was damaged as much, except for the clear distancing from the Hindutva ideology – point blank denial, stating Maharashtra as his religion, boardroom dressing instead of kurta, tikka, etc… the works. This change has been happening for a while, but was starkly visible to those not paying attention that day.
- It was a much needed public flogging over how the Mumbai riots were handled by the Maharashtra government. And I must say well deserved, considering the actions of Patnaik in that video, that have not been denied so far. Instead, Patnaik has been transferred. This wasn’t looking on the cards at all before the protest. Though I have further issues with this, that is for another time. I wouldn’t be surprised of R R Patil resigns too.
- It was a public calling out of the shambles the police force is in in terms of both morale and leadership. It also performed an important action of standing by the police force. The people themselves. Regardless of leadership and seniors.
- It was a show of brute strength and threat over attacks on police – this, in normal circumstances would not be such a glorious thing, but when the government abandons the police, I think the benefit of doing this outweighs the harms. Raj made an important point that if the police cannot protect themselves, if they get attacked, then how can they be expected to protect people in the future? This was the need of the moment, and regardless of Raj Thackeray’s history, it needed said and done and he did it.
- There have been several arrests since the protest. It could be argued that they would have happened regardless, but the arrests seemed to be going nowhere at the time of the protest. Also, I remain skeptical about the intent to arrest anyone at all, given Patnaik’s video.
In my view, what is very remarkable about the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Morcha and Raj Thackeray is the impeccable reading of ground situation, brilliant strategy that solved many serious problems so smoothly most didn’t notice and created very few in turn. Clear leadership and meticulous planning and superb efforts by volunteers leading to a trouble-free protest must not be underestimated. Given the size of the crowd, and the iffy circumstances, I know more than a few were very, very apprehensive of things going out of control. It was a gamble by their leader, and the volunteers must be applauded for making it work.
There are areas of concern and disagreement for me:
- Biggest one. Accusations about immigrants. Contrary to what non Marathi people imagined – that Raj was calling Mumbai Muslims outsiders, he was actually asserting that Mumbai Muslims could not do such a thing. However, he did make accusations about migrants, particularly illegal Bangladeshis settling first in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand and coming to Mumbai to create trouble. This is outrageous and unbelievable and quite detailed an accusation, and if a claim like this must be made, then there needs to be a more concrete proof than waving something that looks like a Bangladeshi passport and claiming it belonged to rioters. Without that, this is a mark against Raj Thackeray’s credibility.
- Another biggest one: Every single person I know thought about the potential for violence on this protest in spite of assurances. This includes the official @MaNaSena account on Twitter tweeting reassurances. Critics and supporters alike heaved sighs of relief when no violence happened. This was completely unnecessary, and in my view a drawback for the party image. There is a need to be more clearly against violence – particularly taking law in own hands. Just as important as not hitting cops. It doesn’t help for Raj Thackeray to stand on the stage and provide examples of him ordering his own MLA beaten up for attacking cops. While in the moment it may shine, it is a role model of breaking laws being set, which will be a continuing problem for the party. I am no Gandhian. Violence has its place in the world. But not in politics, because you can force a point, but only free debate and winning the debate will make it “right”.
- Important, but relatively minor: Raj Thackeray speaking in Marathi, the language of Maharashtra is all very well and good, but it creates serious bad publicity for the party when negative reportage is able to invent their own meanings for what he said, and non-Marathi people will believe it, because there is no reason not to. A classic example is a speech categorically denying Hindutva affiliations being reported as a Hindutva stand – reporter probably didn’t understand Marathi well enough. It will be in the interests of both the party as well as Raj Thackeray to provide English translations of his speeches on his website, or better still audio/video translations by the man himself – his English is certainly good enough and if the original speech is in Marathi, on location, I don’t see how helping people understand the views is an insult to Maharashtra.
Yep. that is it. I have not got into the history of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Too long to get into here.
Disclaimer: I do not support any party or politician. If this changes, it will be declared. This post is my view of the dynamics around this specific event and should not be interpreted as a permanent support of MNS.