The Ugly Politics of Oath-taking in Maharashtra

Photo: Deepak Salvi
Group Editor, Lokmat

TIME WAS when the Maharashtra legislature was regarded as the leading one in the country. But not so any more. On November 9 the state Assembly witnessed one of the lowest points of its career: and this on the very first day of its 12th innings since Independence. Members of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) roughed up Samajwadi Party’s Abu Azmi, all because he insisted on taking his oath in Hindi rather than in Marathi. It is a fact that the state has accepted three languages – Marathi, Hindi and English as its formula for smooth working. But strangely, as more and more educated people get elected, the House, instead of profiting from this infusion, is increasingly preyed upon by parochial forces. Disregarding the pressing problems facing the state, these so-called “sons of the soil”, (actually just busybodies) continue to stay immersed in completely frivolous and emotive issues. All they seek is political mileage. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Abu Azmi – a known adversary of the MNS – took it upon himself to force a showdown. What resulted was utter pandemonium. Indeed the House was so stunned that it hardly knew how to react. And that further encouraged the MNS roughnecks, who went nearly berserk, going to the extent of manhandling the Samajwadi Party leader. It was thanks only to the timely intervention of Legislative Affairs Minister Harshwardhan Patil and PWP’s Meenakshi Patil that Azmi was saved from being seriously hurt. The MNS legislators have no idea at all of the harm they are doing to themselves – because the fracas was telecast live on all the news channels. No law-abiding person, including many from among the Marathi manoos (people), will condone the hooliganism witnessed on that day. The ugly episode further exposes the MNS. For had its members been less insecure in some ways, they would almost certainly have ignored Azmi and tried to prove their critics wrong. Instead they themselves got it all wrong. Raj Thackeray, the highly ambitious nephew of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray who parted ways with the Sena to form his own political outfit, is championing the very same agenda that his uncle embraced nearly 40 years ago. And the son-of-the-soil theory has worked for the MNS, which has seen 13 of its candidates making it to the Assembly in their very first attempt. This is what enables Raj to dictate his narrow political agenda so vigorously. The ruling Congress, as also the Shiv Sena-BJP combine, must find it extremely hard to oppose Raj. Indeed the most they seem able to do is to brand him a parochial leader. Yet this can hardly bother a man who continues to find so many supporters to champion his “cause” – the Marathi manoos in particular. Somehow none of them realise the dangers inherent in linguistic chauvinism. For while emotive issues do help such aspirants to grab power, history shows that such victories are mostly short-lived. In Maharashtra itself the Shiv Sena-BJP combine was voted to power once – but it failed to deliver and was booted out. And so it has been these past 10 years. Not that the Congress-NCP coalition is doing a better job; but they certainly have not fallen into that vicious parochial trap. Make no mistake: the November 9 episode was entirely political in nature. Abu Azmi may have been mouthing constitutional niceties; but finally he did precisely what was expected of him. And much the same is true of the MNS. Obviously the law is going to back Abu Azmi, and there was no surprise when he found backing from the ruling coalition. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance meanwhile was caught in a Catch-22 situation of which Raj Thackeray took huge advantage. But in the long haul he and his supporters are unlikely to find any takers from among those who believe in upholding the rule of law. The punishment visited on the MNS lawbreakers, if harsh, is well deserved. There is bound to be a good bit of legal haggling. Two of the suspended men were not even swornin members. The House rules may not specify the quantum of punishment, but there are penal provisions that can be richly availed of. Besides, there is a strong possibility of things hotting up outside it. CHIEF MINISTER Ashok Chavan has thus killed two birds with one stone, and conveyed to the high command that he is a tough leader. In fact he had been secretly complaining to his bosses about the growth of the MNS during the tenure of his predecessor Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Both Abu Azmi of the Samajwadi Party and his MNS adversaries have private agendas to pursue

Of course it is not as though Congress leaders have not covertly consorted with the Shiv Sena to remain in the saddle. But then the BJP was never a strong force in Maharashtra, and it was only when it partnered with the Shiv Sena by adding the Hindutva plank to the twin agenda that the party could taste success. As for the Shiv Sena, it is no longer what it once was. Balasaheb is ageing, and the leadership of his son Uddhav is totally lacklustre. So its decline is imminent. This puts the Congress in a fine position to exploit the weaknesses in the Shiv Sena and, at the same time, use the MNS to its political advantage. Raj Thackeray has undoubtedly made his presence felt. In the recent elections, whenever the Shiv Sena lost a seat it was blamed on the MNS. But that only helped Raj. For consider: over the past 40 years the Shiv Sena has done little beyond talking the walk. But now that the MNS is walking the talk – or is at least being seen to be doing so by the parochial among the Marathis – the alarm bells for the Sena could get shriller. This was fairly evident even in the Assembly, where the sole consolation for it is that four MNS representatives have been suspended. For his part, Raj Thackeray too should know that, in the long run, his crude methods are unlikely to take him anywhere. He has achieved what he set out to do, which was to get noticed. But to attain the helm he will need to follow policies that are pro-people and not just pro-Marathi.



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