Old age and ill health is surely catching up with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who is forced to helplessly watch the gradual decline of his party, which he founded 40 years ago in the state of Maharashtra.
The consecutive defeat of Shiv Sena in the State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has eroded its support-base and disturbed the usual line and length of its top leadership.
Upset over the rising influence of Raj Thackeray, Shiv Sena was desperately looking for an opportunity which could bring it back into the limelight.
Shiv Sena probably got this opportunity when media flashed Tedulkar’s “Mumbai for all” and “I am an Indian first” comments. What followed was Balasaheb’s blistering attack on the cricketing genius and his assertions that the batsman had made a wrong pitch by making these remarks.
The high-voltage political drama did no good to the Shiv Sena, but it once again flared up the language-based issue and sharpened regionalism, which is threatening the unity and social fabric of our country.
Shiv Sena’s shameless justification of Balasaheb’s tirade against Tendulakar has evoked sharp reactions from all quarters. The country is witnessing a heated debate on whether a person of Sachin’s stature, who has brought numerous laurels to the country and is hailed as one of the greatest cricketers alive, should be dragged into the cheap turf of politics just for petty gains.
Certainly an individual can never be taller than a state or a country, but then, it’s an individual whose achievements add glory to his place of origin. There remains no doubt that Sachin has brought glory to India, Maharashtra, and more particularly Mumbai.
Shiv Sena probably thought that by targeting Sachin, who is one of the biggest icons of Maharashtra at present, it will regain its lost ground and establish itself as the only party fighting for the cause of ‘Marathi Manoos’.
But the gimmick fell flat and Shiv Sena was criticised by one and all for resorting to MNS’ brand of politics.
The emergence of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and people’s growing support to his “Marathi-first agenda” has dealt a further blow to Shiv Sena, which was the first party to champion the cause of ‘Marathi Manoos’.
By winning 13 seats in the recently concluded Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Raj Thackeray's MNS has clearly taken an edge over Shiv Sena on the issue of protecting the rights of Maharashtrians.
Through its violent campaign against the North Indians, its apparent targeting of celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan over their loyalty to the state and its recent assault on SP leader Abu Azmi for attempting to take oath in Hindi, MNS has taken more brownie points than the Shiv Sena by playing the ‘Maratha Card’.
Devoid of its main ‘Maratha’ plank, the Shiv Sena leadership in all these years has failed to connect with the locals and lost its ground completely in the state and specially in Mumbai, which was once considered as Bal Thackeray’s den.
The second mistake, which Shiv Sena committed, was the public display of its anger against popular Marathi TV news channel IBN Lokmat for its ‘negative reporting’ and harsh comments on its autocratic functioning.
The vandalism in IBN Lokmat’s office and the attack on its staff was taken as an assault on media - the fourth estate of democracy - and something against our fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech.
The entire episode has exposed the uglier side of the Shiv Sena leadership, which is now intimidating media and targeting celebrities just to seize back its mantle of goonda politics from the MNS.
All this points to the fact that Shiv Sena is heading towards a bankruptcy of ideas since it has forgotten that there are no restrictions on media in our country at least.
The ongoing war between Balasaheb’s son Uddhav and his estranged cousin Raj Thackeray is getting uglier with every passing day and will continue in the days to come.
After launching a bitter verbal attack against each other during the Assembly Polls, the state of Maharashtra is once again caught in a fierce political war for one-upmanship. This bitter tug-of-war between Shiv Sena and MNS to claim Balasaheb’s legacy will only make things worse for the people of Maharashtra as the “sons-of-soil” will be in its centre.
Rather than fighting against corruption, load-shedding, terrorism, unemployment, farmers’ suicide etc, the two sides are playing the Marathi card and suddenly the Marathi vote bank has become very important, prompting the other players to take up the issue.
Only time will tell who gets the legacy of Bal Thackeray and the popular mandate, to rule Maharashtra in the long run. However, Shiv Sena, by telling Sachin not to take a cheeky single, has not hit a six either.