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Rajdeep Sardesai
Friday , February 12, 2010 at 00 : 23

An open letter to Uddhav Thackeray


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Dear Udhavjee,

At the very outset, my compliments for the manner in which you've literally 'stolen' the headlines from your cousin Raj in the last fortnight. After the Assembly election defeat last October, there were many who had written you off as a weak, namby-pamby politician, who would be better off doing photography. But now, it seems that the 'fire' which burns inside Bal Thackeray is alive in the son too. After years of struggling to establish yourself, you have finally discovered the mantra for success as a Shiv Sena leader: find an 'enemy', threaten and intimidate them, commit the odd violent act, and, eureka!, you are anointed the true heir to the original 'T' company supremo.

Your cousin has chosen to bash faceless taxi drivers and students from North India, soft targets who are totally unprotected. You've been much braver. You've actually chosen to target national icons: Sachin Tendulkar, Mukesh Ambani, Shah Rukh Khan, powerful figures who most Indians venerate. Shah Rukh is no surprise since the Sena has always been uncomfortable with the Indian Muslim identity. Forty years ago, your father had questioned Dilip Kumar's patriotism for accepting an award from the Pakistani government. You've called Shah Rukh a traitor for wishing to choose Pakistani cricketers in the IPL. That your father invited Javed Miandad, the former Pakistani captain and a close relation of Dawood Ibrahim, to your house is a matter of record that we shall not go into today.

I am a little surprised that you chose to question Ambani and Tendulkar though. The Sena has always enjoyed an excellent relationship with corporate India. Why then criticise India's biggest businessman for suggesting that Mumbai belongs to all? After all, no one can deny that Mumbai's entrepreneurial energy has been driven by communities from across India. The diatribe against Sachin is even more strange. He is, alongwith Lata Mangeshkar, Maharashtra's most admired and recognised face. Surely, you will agree that Sachin symbolizes Maharashtrian pride in a manner that renaming shops and streets in Marathi never can.

Of course, in-between some of your local thugs also attacked the IBN Lokmat office. I must confess that initially the attack did leave me outraged. Why would a political outfit that claims to protect Maharashtrian culture attack a leading Marathi news channel? But on reflection I realized that we hadn't been singled out: over the last four decades, the Shiv Sena has targeted some of Maharashtra's finest literary figures and journalistic institutions. That you continue to live in a colony of artists while attacking artistic freedom remains one of the many tragic ironies in the evolution of the Sena.

Just before the Assembly elections, you had told me in an interview that you were determined to shake off the Shiv Sena's legacy of violence. You spoke of the need for welfarist politics, of how you were saddened that rural Maharashtra was being left behind. I was impressed by the farmer rallies you had organized, by the fact that you had documented farmer suicides in the state. I thought that Uddhav Thackeray was serious about effecting a change in Maharashtra's political landscape.

I was obviously mistaken. Farmer suicides still continue, the after-effects of drought are still being faced in several districts, but the focus is now squarely on finding high profile hate figures. You claim to have a vision for Mumbai. Yet, on the day the Sena-controlled city's municipal corporation's annual budget revealed an alarming financial crisis, your party mouthpiece, Saamna, was running banner headlines seeking an apology from Shah Rukh Khan. You asked your Shiv Sainiks to agitate against Rahul Gandhi's visit to Mumbai, but why have you not asked them to wage a war against the water cuts that have made life so difficult for millions in the city?

At one level, I can understand the reasons for your frustration. The Congress-NCP government in the state has been thoroughly incompetent: the last decade has seen Maharashtra decline on most social and economic parameters. Yet, the Shiv Sena has been unable to capture power in the state. Your war with cousin Raj has proved to be self-destructive. The Assembly election results showed that a united Sena may have offered a real challenge to the ruling alliance. In fact, the Sena and the MNS together garnered around 43 per cent of the popular vote in Mumbai-Thane, almost seven per cent more than what was obtained by the Congress-NCP combine. Yet, because your vote was split, you won just nine of the 60 seats in the region, a result which proved decisive in the overall state tally.

Your defeat seems to have convinced you that the only way forward is to outdo your cousin in parochial politics. It's a strategy which has undoubtedly made you a headline-grabber once again. Unfortunately, television rating points don't get you votes or goodwill. There is space in Maharashtra's politics for a regional force, but it needs to be based on a constructive, inclusive identity.

Tragically, the Shiv Sena has never offered a serious social or economic agenda for the future. Setting up the odd wada pav stall in Mumbai is hardly a recipe for addressing the job crisis . Why hasn't the Sena, for example, started training projects to make Maharashtrian youth face upto the challenges of a competitive job market? Why doesn't the Sena give regional culture a boost by supporting Marathi theatre, literature or cinema? The wonderful Marathi film, "Harishchandrachee Factory", nominated for the Oscars, has been co-produced by Ronnie Screwvala, a Parsi, who like millions of other 'outsiders' has made Mumbai his home. Maybe, I ask for too much. Tigers, used to bullying others for years, will never change their stripes.

Post-script: Your charming son, Aditya, who is studying English Literature in St Xaviers College, had sent me a collection of his poems. I was most impressed with his writing skills. Let's hope the next generation of the T company will finally realize that there is more to life than rabble-rousing!

Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra!


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More about Rajdeep Sardesai

Rajdeep Sardesai was the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He has 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.
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