How Travellers Without Luggage In Bandra May Have Pushed Uddhav Thackeray’s Tenure As CM Into The Twilight Zone

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Apr 15, 2020 04:36 PM +05:30 IST
How Travellers Without Luggage In Bandra May Have Pushed Uddhav Thackeray’s Tenure As CM Into The Twilight ZoneSharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray
  • The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the strain in the multi-party coalition in power in Maharashtra.

    And now, it might be too late for Uddhav Thackeray to reconsider any part of it.

Sometime during the afternoon of 14 April, thousands of people claiming to be migrants congregated at a mosque near Bandra station in Central Mumbai, in the midst of a nation-wide lockdown.

They said they were following rumours that trains had started running again, and wished to return to their native lands. As it often happens, the crowd transformed into a mob, things got out of hand, and the police, risking exposure to the Wuhan Virus, had to eventually resort to multiple lathi charges to clear the area.

In the end, some sort of calm was achieved after Zeeshan Siddique, the local legislator, said the right words.

Almost immediately, the usual complaint boxes exploded in a frenzy of allegations. The Congress blamed the police, temporarily forgetting that they were part of the government, and, that Maharashtra’s Home Minister was none other than their own coalition partner member, Anil Deshmukh of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Deshmukh blamed rumour mongers. His party blamed the administration. Siddique blamed the administration for not providing food to the purported migrants.

The BJP blamed Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his party, the Shiv Sena (SS). Everyone blamed Modi. Someone even blamed NGOs.

But no one admitted the truth: that this is what happens when ideologically opposing parties like the Congress, the NCP and the SS come together to form a government of deplorable convenience and administrative impracticability.

No one admitted that the congregation in Bandra appeared a little too spontaneous for digestion, coming as it did a few short hours after Modi made it explicitly clear that the lockdown would continue.

No one admitted that the abject brazenness on display in Bandra was not a congregation, but an implicit protest. For, sometime later, a similar incident was played out in Mumbra, where too, a huge crowd openly defied lockdown orders. There was even a twist in the tale.

So, when a grave Uddhav Thackeray addressed a press meeting later in the evening, the irony of the moment could not have been greater.

He spoke in platitudes, like a child might to an infant, not touching here, not touching there, and avoiding the afternoon’s incidents like an epidemic, if not the plague.

And in his speaking, Thackeray showed why the will of the people is disregarded only at their own peril.

Placing the adharma of coalition dharma above public safety, especially during as grave a situation as a raging epidemic in Mumbai, speaks volumes about priorities. But that is where we are today in Maharashtra.

Now, this is not about whether Thackeray is capable of managing anything more complicated than a paper clip, or not.

This is also not about how visibly fazed and off-colour he looked, during his banality-ridden soliloquy masquerading as a press conference.

This is not about why he made no reference to the Bandra incident, until, with heavy reluctance, he was made to offer a desultory cross-bat to a straight delivery from a journalist.

This is not even about how India was sadly gifted a prime example, of why inherently-contradictory coalitions are administratively counter-productive, morally indefensible, and dangerously inept, especially in times of crisis.

No. This was simply about Uddhav Thackeray finally realising that he cannot have the cake and eat it too.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t just entered too far into a discombobulating twilight zone, but fallen into a rabbit hole of ‘Nehruvian-Secularist’ proportions as well, for there to be any hope of an unscathed return.

He cannot escape. Having gotten into bed with the secularists, there must he lie, even if it means putting the lives of our citizens at needless risk.

Why else would his government make such a meal of preventing these gatherings in Bandra and Mumbra?

What is so special about these protesters that make him turn a blind eye to their strident, adversarial defiance of lockdown protocols? The answers lie in the choices he made.

Sadly, it needn’t have been that way. For, as long as he was with the BJP, everything was just fine. When his father passed away, the BJP stood firmly by him to weather the leadership challenge posed by his cousin Raj Thackeray.

When India started rising above caste prejudices to ride the Modi wave, the BJP made sure that Thackeray and his party were given their due — even as the Shiv Sena’s vote share slid from election to election.

It was galling, it was grating, but the BJP kept their flock in check — at heavy organisational cost — so that this dynast wasn’t spooked.

But ambition grew quietly in him; rising, burning, unalloyed, which was fuelled each passing year, by the urgency of getting his ducks in a row, so that his own dreams, and his political bloodline, might be furthered.

Hegel would have been impressed by Thackeray’s tenacity. And so the great betrayal of 2019 came to pass, when, without a care in the world, he stiffed his political partner and joined hands with the ‘enemy’.

The prima donna with a passion for photography was now Chief Minister of Maharashtra. And to Hades with piffling abstracts like morality and loyalty.

Yet, once on the outside, he learnt to his chagrin that the big bad world he’d been shielded from thus far — first by his father, and then by his partners, had discomfortingly turned on its head. Wrong became right, and night became light.

Thackeray quickly discovered that he had chosen poorly. Siding with the secularists didn’t just mean ideological compromise, but humiliating bargains as well, wherein zero-sum outcomes had to be borne by his party alone.

See how the Congress — past-masters at the game of courtly intrigue — made him sweat for every cabinet berth?

However, there was no getting around this, because on the other flank stood Sharad Pawar — easily India’s most canny politician, with the wealth of Croesus behind, an Atlas of a sugar lobby in front, and a man who could milk blood from a stone in his sleep.

No wonder that the NCP’s Jitendra Awhad, a minister in Thackeray’s cabinet, and, surprise, surprise, legislator for Mumbra, rages against the machine — even if he is running it.

The Thackeray scion was finally trapped in the twilight zone. And that is where he stands today, while Mumbai comes to terms with the true, horrific implications of many thousands having congregated for extended durations in Bandra and Mumbra.

There is no escape from here, and his coalition will not stand the test of time. That is guaranteed. It is only a question of the cost which will have to be borne by the residents of Maharashtra, until the present political dispensation collapses under the weight of its own, mutual exclusivities.

Nothing else.

And the twist in the tale? The purported migrants, who allegedly congregated in purely spontaneous fashion at a closed Bandra railway station, to board trains which were not running, as per rumours which have not been traced, were not carrying their luggage.

Now why is that?

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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