WHEN the Congress talks about the cyclone that hit Mumbai, they mean one called Michael Jackson. And much to their glee, no demonstration could have done the damage that the controversial Jacko did.
He stormed through the city, leaving a trail of devastation around Shiv Sena precincts. The saffron flags in and around the venue of the Jackson show, the Thackeray family and Chief Minister Manohar Joshi prominently placed in the crowd that Jackson wowed on Friday evening, should have been dream publicity. But not for a saffron party promoting the interests of Hindutva and the sons of the soil. And they have to now deal with the backlash. They have to find answers for not just encouraging videshi culture, but actually trying to earn money from it.
Last week, the state cabinet spared Wizcraft, the organisers and promoters of the Jackson show, Rs 11.58 crore in entertainment tax. The decision was taken unopposed and in two minutes flat. The government’s excuse: the organisers of the show, presented it to them as a ‘classical programme’, with proceeds from ticket sales going to a charitable organisation.
The Shiv Udyog Sena (SUS), headed by Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj, and inaugurated by the Sena chief at the party’s Dussehra rally, is registered as a charitable organisation. It was set up to fulfil the Sena election promise of jobs to 2.7 million unemployed people.
The Bombay High Court, evidently unmoved by classics and charity, stayed the transfer of Rs 4 crore to the SUS . The amount now has to be deposited with the government till a petition moved by the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat comes up for hearing on December 3. A consumer organisation, the panchayat also challenged the government’s decision to waive entertainment tax, terming it an "abuse of power". Preceding the panchayat’s writ petition was one from Ramesh Thackeray, estranged younger brother of the Sena chief, who had wanted to book the stadium for a fortnight last month for Dandiya programmes during the Navratri festival. He was refused permission by the municipal corporation on the grounds that it was under repair and could not be given out till December. Like Michael Jackson Fashion India Ltd which has filed a Rs 100-crore case against the star on charges of cheating, Ramesh Thackeray’s appeal to have the show cancelled was also stayed.And when he threatened self-immolation he was arrested promptly before the publicity got worse.
On the plus side, the Thackerays are the envy of Jackson fans worldwide. The pop-star spent a few minutes at a poolside five-star dinner hosted by Raj Thackeray, which some even spent Rs 1 lakh to attend. Jackson visited Bal Thackeray’s suburban bungalow, played with his grandchildren and in a rare move for the legend of fuss, even used his toilet. Not everyone is impressed, though. Says Gurunath Kulkarni of the Congress: "They will have to pay for all this at the polls."