Feb 14, 2008, IBNLive
It was during my student days in Pune that I first came to know of Raj Thackeray. That was the time when he first started making noises against Uddhav Thackeray. And that was the first time we came to know that the flat bang opposite ours belonged to Raj Thackeray.
We would see streams and streams of people coming to visit him, though he would be happily sitting at his Shivaji Park home in Mumbai. All sorts of ruffian-esque people were at his door 24/7. Thoughtful neighbours and security guards would check upon us as we were six girls staying alone out there. And frankly, it was slightly scary to most of us, but what we all agreed upon was that the man had charisma and that was why so many people came to his door everyday.
The big fallout happened and Raj was all over the Maharashtrian media. The mass exodus from Shiv Sena happened. And our apartment block was again flooded with party workers, policemen, reporters and onlookers.
When Thackeray started MNS, it seemed like he wanted to steer away from the bullying and goonda raj politics of the Sena. His local leaders were all young men, the average age of his leaders being not more than 35. Most of them well educated. They seemed to be eager to do something different.
For a year, the novelty lasted. The party grew slowly and steadily, though it was still far from being a threat to anyone. But the image of MNS as a young, educated party seemed to attract the younger generation in Pune, who seemed to be willing to vote him over the Sena. But one year down the line all that has changed.
Like a news channel that suddenly realises that good journalism doesn’t get TRPs and starts showing all sorts of sensational stuff, Raj Thackeray started to make more vigorous statements. And finally the day came when the leader – who has remained refined till date – started making the very same noises that the Sena made a few years ago.
The provocation – an SP rally and a North Indian friendly Shiv Sena. The cleverly-crafted, suave image was shed to reveal a leader made of the same stuff as his ideal, Balasaheb. He kept on making statements to attract media attention. He unleashed his hitherto unused goonda army to take on the mantle of the protectors of Marathi Asmita. All of this with the Maharashtra elections in mind.
A few taxis smashed, some hapless north Indians thrashed, allegations and accusations flying all across. Whatever happened to all those educated leaders of his party? Where did all the need to change the picture of Maharashtra politics go?
The unfortunate turn of events has disappointed a lot of people who had some faith in Raj Thackeray. But he got what he wanted. His statements and the media attention made him known nation-wide. And he spun another drama by provoking his own arrest.
Strangely, people in India still think that any politician who courts arrest is a revolutionary, a hero. And that’s what Raj has become to all those who can’t see beyond his inflammatory statements. He has successfully portrayed himself as the last remaining saviour of parochialism in Mumbai. Out on bail, he waved to his growing entourage of supporters, much like a film star. He even posed elegantly and triumphantly for the shutterbugs.
Thackeray has probably gained the votes of some parochial Maharashtrians. But he has lost all the people who hoped he was different. The hero, even before he became one, has become an anti-hero.