There has been much in the news lately about Raj Thackerey and his party the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena), and to be frank, most of it has been anti-Raj. One could, and many do make the case that the MNS cadre resorts to hooliganism and violence and that since the party chief not only endorses but also encourages this, he as well as his party ought to be condemned. Some even say that the MNS deserves to be consigned to the scrap-heap of Indian politics. This stance is taken up mostly by members of the middle to upper-middle classes, who prefer their politics (and politicians) to be more ‘behind-the-scenes’ than ‘in-your-face’. It is true that the MNS has its fair share of detractors, but nevertheless, it should be taken into consideration that there is a large section of people in Maharashtra who would unhesitatingly throw their weight behind Raj Thackerey.
When it was founded in March 2006, it was expected that the MNS would offer resistance to the Shiv Sena, acting chiefly as an irritant towards the party it had split from. It is interesting to observe, however, that in the last four years, the MNS has slowly but steadily been making its presence felt, not just in Maharashtra, but all over India. The fact that the MNS won thirteen assembly seats in the 2009 Maharashtra assembly elections is not something that can be ignored, nor lightly taken. On the flipside, there is also the fact that Raj Thackerey has openly spoken against the massive North-Indian presence in Mumbai, and even gone to the extent of inciting violence against this section of the Indian population. So, the question to be asked is, how are we to judge this man? While it is certainly tempting to fall in with popular opinion (as expressed in the media) and cast stones at him, the advisable thing to do is to take a balanced view of the situation.
Every coin has two sides — heads and tails; but there is a third side that we rarely see. The side of the coin that it lands on when it is neither heads nor tails; the edge of the coin. The grey area between the black and the white. It is this side of Raj Thackerey and the MNS that this article is going to explore and engage with.
In October 2008, a group of MNS activists stormed over ten centres in the suburbs of Mumbai, where the All-India Railway Recruitment Board examinations were going on, and apart from smashing up the classrooms, they also beat up many of the North Indian candidates who were appearing for the exam. This incident was strongly condemned by mostly everyone with a shred of decency in them, and it deserved to be condemned. Violence against innocents is unpardonable. But let us shift focus, for just a moment, to the cause of Raj Thackerey’s displeasure, which unfortunately translated into physical assault through the medium of his party cadres.
Not too many are aware of the harsh reality of the situation that plagues Marathi jobseekers — advertisements for the railway jobs were placed in many newspapers; except the Marathi ones. The bone of contention was that often, railways jobs in Maharashtra were not given to local Marathi applicants, but were given to persons who did not have domicile in the state. As per a report in ‘The Hindu’ on October 20 2008, after the incident, MNS general secretary (Mumbai) Nitin Sardesai justified his party’s position by asking, “When there is availability here why should people from outside be called?”
The crux of the matter is this — Raj Thackerey, through his MNS, has called attention to some vital issues such as the problems caused by the ever-increasing influx of migrant population into Mumbai and also certain parts of Maharashtra. The manner in which he has got people’s attention is what is unacceptable. In a democratic society whose constitution guarantees freedom of movement, it is incorrect to restrict the same, and especially so if this is done through violent means. However, those who claim that Raj Thackerey should be arrested and the MNS banned should take into account another constitutional freedom — the freedom of speech.
But seriously. What does Raj Thackerey say that people find so offensive? Isn’t he right to say that all those who wish to work and make their living in Maharashtra ought to be conversant in Marathi? Those who migrate to the United States of America or the United Kingdom are required to take a test to determine their proficiency in English. It doesn’t make sense to work in Japan without knowing at least the basics of the Japanese language. Why, then, is it so outrageous to some, when they are told that knowing basic Marathi is a prerequisite for working in the state of Maharashtra?
Sadly, Raj Thackerey’s attempt at solving the problem entailed beating up taxi drivers and giving them forty days to learn the language or pack their bags.
The man has some good ideas, let’s give him that. There’s no denying that there is substance in what he says, and his party’s vision, as the MNS website claims, includes bringing the people of Maharashtra together, regardless of caste, religion, sect or class, for the development of the state. But for all his good intentions and visions of a better Maharashtra, Raj Thackerey has, in recent years, become the poster-boy for Marathi hooliganism. However, there’s one thing that’s for sure: when future generations look back at these tumultuous times, Raj Thackerey will be remembered as a man who, whether for better or for worse, was instrumental in changing the shape of the state of Maharashtra.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz