The Shiv Sena, still smarting under Rahul Gandhi’s whiplash suburban train ride, has shown that it cannot be so easily written off. The Shahrukh Khan starrer My Name is Khan is not going to be released on Friday as slated. The Sena’s timeworn terror tactics have worked once again to create an atmosphere of uncertainty in Mumbai and many parts of Maharashtra, forcing theatre owners to delay the launch of the film. Mr. Khan’s crime is that he favoured the inclusion of Pakistani players in the IPL. Are you with the Sena or with Shahrukh, is the question doing the rounds in Mumbai.
Theatres are shaky about screening the film, despite the promise of tight security from the police. Sainiks have been hyperactive, stretching the city police’s imagination to think of novel ways of preventing trouble. The Sena’s ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), is not in the fray — it is dealing with real issues. “So many of our people were lathicharged at an anti-price rise rally in the city recently but not a single channel showed it,” remarked a BJP leader.
Price rise is far from the minds of the average Shiv Sainik. Sena leaders are busy deciding to return their security, they have little time to spare for mundane issues. They are busy issuing threats to Australian cricketers and to Mr. Khan. Even Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar’s visit to meet Mr. Bal Thackeray on Sunday could not buoy the Sena’s spirits. Though Mr. Pawar went ostensibly to request Mr. Bal Thackeray to call off his threat to Australian players, it sent confusing signals. The Congress and its ally are not very far from the right wing. They like to keep in touch and show deference once in a while.
The Sena is more than worried. In the past, film distributors fell at Mr. Bal Thackeray’s feet. This time that has not happened yet. My Name is Khan’s director Karan Johar took the lawful path by meeting the city police Commissioner on Tuesday and not Mr. Thackeray. Last year Mr. Johar had met Raj Thackeray and apologised for the use of the word “Bombay” in his film Wake Up Sid. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had threatened to stall the film and had demanded an apology to the whole State from Mr. Johar.
So in a quick U-turn, the Sena, which initially had cooled down to Mr. Khan and his film release, suddenly turned violent; tearing up film screens and protesting, catching even the police by surprise. Mr. Khan, on his return to Mumbai last week, had even said he did not mind meeting Mr. Bal Thackeray but that was not a “mellowing” down. He also refused to apologise for his statement as demanded by the party. The Sena is not used to this treatment. It is used to people asking for approval, seeking the blessings of Mr. Bal Thackeray, apologising if necessary. Worse, Mr. Johar was the same man who apologised to its arch rival, the MNS, only a few months ago.
Politically for the Sena, its Marathi agenda has been hijacked by the MNS and Mr. Raj Thackeray. Even if the media accounts of Rahul Gandhi’s train journey are ecstatic, it did take everyone by surprise. The Sena tried to be stoic by saying that Mr. Gandhi was forced to change his route and take the train due to the party’s opposition to his visit, but deep down it knows the truth. The Congress went to town saying that the train journey was a fitting reply to the Sena’s protests against his statements on Mumbai. Mr. Gandhi travelled unhindered through the city while Sainiks feebly demonstrated here and there.
The turf war for the Marathi vote is dragging to low levels. Though elections to the city corporation are two years away, the Sena has lost so much ground that it needs time to recover and prepare to retain the corporation which it is ruling for a second term. Unlike other parties, fear has been central to the Sena’s agenda. Why did Mr. Bal Thackeray emerge as the remote control of the State? It was the fear of the party’s lumpen cadres that kept people at home during strikes called by the Sena. The fear of violence and retribution. The streets used to empty out and people thought twice before risking their lives.
All that has changed. An ailing leader, an heir who is soft-spoken and cadres who are in disarray cannot do much to sustain the hate agenda of the Sena. It is a party that has little else on board. By focusing on Mr. Khan’s statement favouring the inclusion of Pakistani players in IPL, the Sena has taken a convoluted path of protest by stalling the film release starring the actor.
It is an agitation that must be read correctly. It is an agitation to intimidate, instil fear, and show once again that the Sena is a force to reckon with. It wants to put the police and the Congress-led government in its place. Those who don’t pay obeisance, please take note. The remote control is back.