NOTHING better illustrates the Shiv Senas careless departure from its moorings than the change in perception of Maharashtras first family. The Thackerays will claim theyve always lived this way, Heineken and all. But....
Thackeray, who promised the moon for Marathi manus (sons of the soil), is so visibly comfortable with businessmen, industrialists and filmstars, that even Saamna had to ask if he wasnt distancing himself from the masses. (His reply: "No.") The gravitation of the ThackeraysBal, Raj and Uddhavtowards the high and mighty may fit Danish scholar Thomas Hansens theory of the Sena as a party that fulfills dreams of power and social mobility. But....
The manner in which the Thackerays are trying to leave their imprint on Mumbaithe city which gave them the first taste of power in 1985is raising hackles all around. "They are acting as if they own this place," say angry citizens.
A flyover near the tigers lair has been named after his father, Prabodhankar, resisting demands that it be named after former prime minister Morarji Desai. And a statue of his wife Meenatai has been installed in the historic Shivaji Park.
Rumours of property-buying sprees that Sena bugbear Nikhil Wagle hears mean little to the average Sainik who thinks that its all propaganda, the handiwork of that black sheep Chhagan Bhujbal. But some soul searching is certainly on. "Does he think we are fools to believe his claim that Rebecca Mark just brought him Walt Disney cartoon tapes?" asks a former vibagh pramukh about the Enron chiefs repeated visits to the household while seeking revival of the project.
Senior party members, however, are scared to ask such questions. A minister recently told a journalist to ask Thackeray how he had managed to build a three-storey house worth several crores of rupees without a known source of income. The house, Matoshri, is the object of some controversy. Allotted to Thackeray the Cartoonist, its situated in a writers colony. But its renovation, after the Sena took over, has set tongues wagging; photographers arent allowed to take pictures.
Political analysts are surprised that Thackeray, who waited 25 years to seize the reins of power, should so unabashedly show it off. But a man whos proud that Michael Jackson used his designer toilet obviously believes in flaunting it.
On charges that Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, a former teacher, has assets amounting to Rs 500 crore, he says with trademark disdain: "Theres nothing wrong in earning wealth. Even Dhirubhai Ambani began on a very small scale and rose to astounding heights." The megalomania is growing. Recently, he wrote to the IDBI chairman about reviving Nirlon, a factory where Sunil Gavaskar worked. Beneath the bold Marathi signature was the legend: "Shri Balasaheb Thackeray, Shiv Sena Supremo."
And then, he was furious that a reporter didnt seek his opinion on a petition that challenged his locus standi. The scribe explained that he had telephoned but was told that there was no electricity, and the big man could not come on the line. Thackerays reply: "I may not have the electricity but Ive all the power."