Friday, February 12, 2010

The T Company

Just before the Assembly elections, the current leadership of Shiv Sena was determined to shake off the party’s legacy of violence. He spoke of the need for welfarist politics, of how rural Maharashtra was being left behind. It was impressive though to see the farmer rallies the Sena organized, by the fact that they documented farmer suicides in the state. I thought that Uddhav Thackeray was serious about effecting a change in Maharashtra's political landscape.

I was obviously mistaken. Farmer suicides still continue, the after-effects of drought are still being faced in several districts, but the focus is now squarely on finding high profile hate figures. They claim to have a vision for Mumbai. Yet, on the day the Sena-controlled city's municipal corporation's annual budget revealed an alarming financial crisis, the party mouthpiece, Saamna, was running banner headlines seeking an apology from Shah Rukh Khan. They asked their Shiv Sainiks to agitate against Rahul Gandhi's visit to Mumbai, but why have they not asked them to wage a war against the water cuts that have made life so difficult for millions in the city?

At one level, I can understand the reasons for their frustration. The Congress-NCP government in the state has been thoroughly incompetent: the last decade has seen Maharashtra decline on most social and economic parameters. Yet, the Shiv Sena has been unable to capture power in the state. The war with cousin Raj has proved to be self-destructive. The Assembly election results showed that a united Sena may have offered a real challenge to the ruling alliance. In fact, the Sena and the MNS together garnered around 43 per cent of the popular vote in Mumbai-Thane, almost seven per cent more than what was obtained by the Congress-NCP combine. Yet, because Sena’s vote was split, they won just nine of the 60 seats in the region, a result which proved decisive in the overall state tally.

Ironically, the Shiv Sena, who claim to be the guardian of Mumbai or Maharashtra and Marathi Manoos, has never offered a serious social or economic agenda for the future. Setting up the odd wada pav stall in Mumbai is hardly a recipe for addressing the job crisis. Why hasn't the Sena, for example, started training projects to make Maharashtrian youth face upto the challenges of a competitive job market? Why doesn't the Sena give regional culture a boost by supporting Marathi theatre, literature or cinema? The wonderful Marathi film, "Harishchandrachee Factory", nominated for the Oscars, has been co-produced by Ronnie Screwvala, a Parsi, who like millions of other 'outsiders' has made Mumbai his home. They just used their energy in bullying others which kept doing for years, and they will never change their stripes. Hopefully, their coming generation who are studying English literature can change the T Company in the coming time.

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