July 27, 2020
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Now the tiger only mimics Sonia's accent

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THE roars might be absent, but then, there are always the growls. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, of late, has been ignored by BJP leaders—barring the small fry, none, including Advani and Vajpayee who once made it a point to attend his campaign launches, have shared his platform so far. That's why Thackeray chose to leave his visiting card at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Once it was Advani who routinely came calling at Matoshree, now Balasaheb was taking flowers to Rajju Bhaiya. But he seems chastened more by the EC. He would like to tell it a thing or two. About taking away his right to vote, about barring him from contesting elections for six years. The second ban is meaningless: he never has done so and never will. But the first rankles.

In '98, his obscene references to Sonia Gandhi were said to have cost him precious votes, particularly those of women. Many rural belles in this cotton belt of Vidarbha had marched out of his meetings when he likened the Congress president to a cow and made other anatomical observations on her bearing. So now, after some reported arm-twisting by the BJP to go slow on personal references, Thackeray says he has "nothing personal" against Sonia. But she's the soonbai (daughter-in-law) of the Nehru-Gandhi family, not ours, he thunders. And we shall never allow this white skin to be our PM. Now, he only mimics her accent. His sharpest attacks are still reserved for Sonia and Sharad Pawar. "I was the first one to have defied Sonia's foreign origins. Where was Pawar then? Sitting shoulder to shoulder with her, dragging his chair closer to hers...he never thought she'd be the PM. When he found that she could, he just turned tail and ran."

Vidarbha is dear to Thackeray's heart because of Amravati. His mother's family hailed from Achalpur in this district. He has been attempting to make a dent in this region, so far unsuccessfully. But now it is time to try again. So he flies into Amravati on a chartered plane, seals himself in the local hotel before his evening rally (for maximum effect, his meetings are always held after sunset), flits into the RSS headquarters next morning and then zooms into Kalm-eshwar. At his public meetings he revels in unfurling a lakhota (scroll) that bears the names of all the illustrious men (always men) from Vidarbha who did little for the region, among them former PM P.V. Narasimha Rao. The list seems endless until he stumbles across a name. Oops! The man is on stage with him—he's now a Sena candidate from Amravati. "Never mind," says Thackeray with typical aplomb, "he did nothing while he was theirs. Now he is on our side, he might do better. So vote for him."

But those who crossed over from his side to theirs are all dal bad -lus (turncoats). "And I don't hesitate in saying so. I'm a halkat manus (rascal )." Well, a cartoonist certainly. "Let it be known to you," he tells journalists on his trail, "I'm a great cartoonist. And I can do a better job of turning you into cartoons than you can of lampooning me!" The media has begun to liken him to one of his own best creations. And that hurts. A glimpse of vulnerability is visible through his cloak of invincibility. And that paints a picture better than a thousand words can.

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