CONTRARY to popular perception that the loss of the Maharashtrian middle class base will prove disastrous to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, I think he might still be able to reconsolidate his position. His withdrawal from a final confrontation with the bjp is being interpreted as giving in to that party and other adversaries and it is said that Thackeray will politically suffer because of that; it is being seen as the end of the Shiv Sena. But I'm not so sure. Thackeray has often gone back on his positions and each time it was interpreted as his end. But he has consistently survived all situations -not because of his merits but because of the demerits of his adversaries.
First of all, I do not think he has surrendered on the cricket issue. If at all, his is a calculated surrender. He has scored his point and for that reason probably he is no more interested in pushing it through, for now. Thackeray has certainly established that he counts, not just with Maharashtra but also with the Centre.
Thackeray was underrated as a political strategist even by me. But the way he has played his politics, particularly in this instance of Indo-Pak cricket, reminds me of Indira Gandhi. There was a time when she acted and all the others only reacted. By no means does Thackeray equal Indira Gandhi in any way but like they did with her, everybody in this case has only reacted. Because this time he seems to be playing the Pakistan card intelligently and he has cornered his major adversary - the bjp. He may have an alliance with it, but his major adversary in this country is only the bjp. Whatever Thackeray may say about Hindutva and whatever language he may share with the bjp, in practical terms Thackeray does not have an ideology at all. So I wouldn't be surprised if in the future he dumps the bjp.
Thackeray can hold the country to ransom because of his lack of ideological convention. As a result, he can move in any direction - he does not have a friend and he does not have an enemy. That is a very enviable position. But he is in a crucial moment right now when he has not grown in terms of organisational strength and because of his sudden withdrawal from opposition to the Indo-Pak series, there might be major discontentment among his boys.
Then again, though his politics of confrontation might have led to discontent among the middle class cricket lovers, his cadre may still stay with him. Their loyalty to this man is complete. I am not talking of the middle class supporters or the second-rank Sena leadership which may or may not move away from him. For now, despite everything, I don't see him as a diminishing political force. The Sena may not be a force to reckon with in terms of numbers even in Maharashtra but because of its so-called militancy and the kind of fanaticism and even the criminal psyche it harbours, not only this but even the next government at the Centre will have a difficult time with this man.
Thackeray has had a lot of white-collar supporters among Maharashtra's so-called intelligentsia, which talks politics but does not have a serious interest in politics and is largely ignorant about political matters. But because of their love of cricket, in the last few days they were extremely unhappy about what was happening. Nevertheless, when elections come around, I wonder if they will really move away from him. But that is only because no other political force or party or organisation can substitute the Shiv Sena in their eyes.
But even if they do move away from him, Thackeray's political future is not dependent on this element. Thackeray knows very well where his strength lies - not with middle class, white-collared supporters but lower-rung cadres. So if he has displeased the middle classes, I am sure he does not care; he does not mind this support moving away from him, he will repeat similar acts in the future.
FOR a man who began his career as a cartoonist, and not a very original one at that, I am sure that Thackeray never even dreamt that he would one day hold a nation to ransom. He must feel like a sleepwalker even now: the kind of decisions he has to take, the way he hypnotises his cadres. If he orders his boys to jump from the sixteenth floor, I am sure they will do it. This is why he is a complicated person, different from a politician who has been groomed to be a leader: you can't expect that kind of responsibility from this man. A man who talks of Shivaji and Shiv Shahi, knowing full well that the kind of administration his government is running has nothing to do with either. But his kind of hypnotism is such that despite the fact that all Sainiks know the kind of corruption prevailing in the government and the organisation, the kind of criminality that has grown in the organisation over the years, yet if he says otherwise, he still manages to sound convincing. Compare this with what several spokespersons of the bjp or its leaders have to say. They know what they are mouthing is not based in political reality and they know that you know that they are on the verge of laughing and giving the game away.
With Thackeray it is otherwise. The bjp's language may change while talking of the Sena, on which it is always guarded, and the Congress, which it attacks openly. Thackeray's language whether in attack of the bjp or the Congress is the same. He hates politics and politicians. Indeed, his early actions show he hated politicians. Now he has become one. Not just a politician but a political showman who hates politics in practice but indulges in it in his own way. And continues to have his uses for both the bjp and the Congress. He will be a force to reckon with so long as these parties find him useful. And the credit for being such a political force is not his but that of his adversaries.
(Vijay Tendulkar is a noted Marathi playwright.)