Raj Thackeray - a threat to India’s unity?

Biplob Ghosal

The leader of "Marathi Manoos" is back in action. After displaying his strength in leading a rally against the recent violence in Mumbai without any permission from the authorities, the motor-mouthed Raj Thackeray did not mince his words while calling Biharis as “infiltrators”.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief threatened to force Biharis out of Maharashtra if officials in Bihar take legal action against Mumbai policemen, who picked up a teenager from the eastern state without informing the authorities there.

Raj, who calls himself the custodian of Maharashtrians, has said that Bihar chief secretary Navin Kumar’s letter to the Mumbai police commissioner voicing displeasure over the arrest of Abdul Qadir Mohammed Younus Ansari from Sitamarhi for vandalising the Amar Jawan Memorial near Azad Maidan on August 11 was uncalled for.

"If the Bihar government tries to become a hurdle in the way of a police investigation, then my party would dub every Bihari in Maharashtra as an infiltrator and would force them to leave the state. The person who desecrated the Amar Jawan memorial was arrested from Bihar. I would like to tell the Bihar chief secretary that because of your state, the crime rate (in Maharashtra) has gone up," Raj said.

Raj’s remarks haven’t gone down well with the people and with the political parties.
The ruling JD(U) in Bihar has said, “The MNS chief has been spewing venom for past many years against North Indian people, including those from Bihar, settled in Mumbai and Maharashtra."

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is running a coalition government with JD(U) in Bihar, too grabbed the opportunity and heavily lashed out at Raj Thackeray. Party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, "The country works under a federal structure and if a suspicious person belongs to a particular state then definitely that state must be taken into full confidence. This is a part of the legal procedure. But statements that if any action is taken then the people of that particular state will be targeted shows mental bankruptcy. Such statements can cause a loss in the big fight against terrorism."

The most sarcastic reaction came from Congress leader Digvijay Singh who said the Thackeray family itself belonged to Bihar and had settled in Dhar in Western Madhya Pradesh from where they migrated to Mumbai.

"If you look at the history of Mumbai, then it is a city of fishermen. Rest all have settled there from outside," Singh said.

Raj Thackeray has a history of courting controversies related to the ‘Marathi Manoos’ issue. Raj, nephew of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, has tried in recent years and succeeded too in securing a place in Maharashtra politics and hijacking his uncle’s agenda.

The MNS chief has been hell-bent on proving himself as the greatest saviour of Maratha pride by whatever means possible.

Raj Thackeray’s controversies

Recently, Raj Thackeray had defied a police ban and led a march to Azad Maidan in Mumbai, to express solidarity with the police and media persons who were attacked during the August 11 violence when Muslim groups were protesting against clashes in Assam.

While addressing a gathering of more than 50,000 supporters, Thackeray warned of retaliation if similar incidents of violence were repeated. He had said, "This will not be tolerated and limits cannot be crossed. We will not tolerate anybody who dares to take on Maharashtra."

In 2008 Raj Thackeray had attacked the people from North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The taxi drivers, vendors etc hailing from the Hindi heartland were beaten up by MNS supporters. Not only this, his party members had banned Australian cricketers from playing in Mumbai during IPL 3.

In the same year he had issued a public warning that Mumbai shops needed to have Marathi signboards in addition to the existing English ones.

The most violent episode was when MNS men assaulted Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi for defying the diktat of Raj Thackeray to all Maharashtra Assembly members to take their oath only in Marathi. He was arrested in connection with the incident but was released after paying a penalty of 15,000.

Not only the common man, but even the celebrities have been at the receiving end of Thackeray’s ire. The most recent being MNS’ warning to TV channels to stop airing the programme "Sur-Kshetra" that features Asha Bhonsle and Pakistani vocalists or face "consequences".

And when Asha Bhonsle refused to opt out of the reality show, Raj Thackeray dubbed her as greedy for money saying, "It is not `Atithi deva bhava` but Paise deva Bhava`.

Not only Asha Bhonsle, the ace actor Jaya Bachchan had to face MNS chief’s fury in 2008 when she had said, “Hum UP (Uttar Pradesh) ke log hain, isliye Hindi mein baat karenge, Maharashtra ke log Maaf Kijiye”. The fallout was such that her husband and Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan had to apologise for the remarks as MNS supporters attacked theatres screening his film ‘The Last Year’ and also issued threat for his future releases.

Besides the above incidents the MNS chief has been in the news for his remarks on Chhath Puja, migrants and attack on auto drivers in 2011.

Many politicians in this largest democratic set-up have been indulging in cheap politics to grab the coveted chair and Raj Thackeray is one of them who has been continuously trying to break the fabric of this diversified culture.

What is more worrying is that such people have been given the space to rise to such level, all thanks to our political establishment including us - the common man. It’s high time that the people of this country stand united and discard divisive politics.