Saturday, October 24, 2009

End of Regional Identity Politics?

Mr. Balasaheb Thackery, the patriarch of Marathi Manoos, writes a desolate editorial in Samana (October 25, 2009 issue) after latest Maharashtra polls, the Western State in modern India. There is no history of Marathi Folks (those from the state of Maharashtra) without Mr. Balasaheb Thackery - for good and bad. His party was trounced in the latest assembly polls. An eighty four year old need not write such an editorial in Samana - the newspaper founded by Mr. Thackery himself. Life should have spared him here.

One can understand his anguish and sadness. It takes bit of 'end of the world' tone when he declares that he no more believes in God.

Those who believe in God would not find it amusing when a mere loss in a single election should prompt to a life long devotee to become atheist at this stage. Or on the other hand did it require Mr. Thackery that many decades to realize 'belief in God' is nothing but simply 'crutches' to deal with vagaries of Life? Truly tragic part is, whichever camp one is, Mr. Thackery has reached the end of the road literally and figuratively. He does not have any more years left to battle out. Hence his tragic editorial.

One can wonder what is the point in rebutting an 84 year old man's writing since it is questionable what can he understand in all these replies. Besides, it is obvious that he must have been offered sane advice for all thse decades but it did not have any impact on him. Though his political outfit getting trounced is a seminal event, at the end of the day his party still has around 20% members of State Assembly. His political party is not yet finished. In a way, Marathi folks still owe to him in at least engaging with him politically; we should not just 'pass on or move on'.

His is a classical step in 'denial' - he is blaming Marathi people for not voting him. His argument is that his party has been the only one to cater needs of Marathi people and those very same people have turned on him. This raises number of questions:
- What Mr. Thackery considers 'needs of Marathi'; are those indeed the real needs of Maharashtrians or do they need lot many different things than what he is offering?
- Is he ready to accept that it is not the monopoly of Shiv Sena only to serve Maharashtrians? Why is he never ready to accept a fact that for large sections of Maharashtrians other political forces might have delivered and cared?
- Finally, what about a simple fact that there are multitude of Maharashtrians who do not simply associate with 'Marathi identity' which he has been assiduously pursuing at the exclusion of everything else?

There is no point for Mr. Thackery to grouse about how other regional forces are thriving on the basis of identity politics. Did it ever occur to him, may be some of those are delivering to their people (Modi in particular) or simply that all of those regional outfits aiming to rule on the basis of linguistic and regional identities are in the end swimming against the global tide of more unifying politics?

Whatever answers Mr. Thackery wants to give to these questions, reality is as follows:

- He failed to grow Shiv Sena in more unified manner and that led to the division. Marathi Manus 'did not break' Shiv Sena. It is Mr. Tackery's continued nepotism that broke the Shiva Sena leading to a division of Sena. As a result in the first past poll method of Indian election; his party lost dramatically. Why does he not want to own this failure? Do we need to tell a patriarch of 8 decades, what 'unity' means and why it is needed? If Leadership is not bringing people together, to hold them together; then what is it? Why does he want to ignore failures in not cultivating 'institutionalized' power sharing and party management? Who's failure is that?

- True, Marathi Manoos speaks Marathi; but that does not mean he or she can make living in today's world by sticking to suffocatingly narrow and restrictive agenda of Shiva Sena. Marathi Manoos, as like every other humans and societies on this planet change, his needs change and Shiv Sena fails to understand.

- Whenever opportunities were given to Shiva Sena - what did we get? Corrupt government not delivering basic needs and prosperity. Not that non-Shiv Sena governments are corruption free; but those deliver more - basic security to non-Marathi people living in Maharashtra and economic development. Shiv Sena does not have any sterling record when it comes to delivering governance and that is not the failure of Marathi Manoos.

- Finally, did he ever bother to get out of this narrow linguistic chauvinism and govern by much broader and accommodating politics? How can you be a legitimate political force while you want to run your politics on such a narrow basis when today's dramatically 'in flux' societies need much broader agenda and political basis? It is hard to believe in the world where Barack Obama gets elected and a Prime Minister from minority community rules a country of Billion plus people; Mr. Thackery still expects Maharashtrians stick to his narrow vision of Marathi Manoos.

Truth is, Marathi Manoos is indeed 'growing and emancipating' whenever he shows the ability to out grow ultra restrictive confines of any political party, including Shiv Sena.

So Mr. Thackery, actually you do not need to be so sad. Your life long project of igniting imagination and vitality of Marathi Manoos is indeed succeeding. Do not undermine that success in the failure of Shiv Sena where remedies of political come back are well established. If Mr. Thackery or Shiv Sena wants, obviously it can incorporate much needed ideology, policy and institutional changes and then not just Marathi Manoos, but all Maharashtrians will back Shiv Sena.

Update - Some may wonder why do I even bother for some obscure state level election in India. Reasons are:
1. First of all it is personal - my ethnic roots are strongly Maharashtrian and Marathi. So it is incumbent to be aware of what happens in that world. Most of my family members, as well as of my spouse, are intricately linked to Marathi way of Life.
2. We have to understand, many state level elections in India are equivalent or larger than elections in many countries of the world. If we report what happens in German Election or Japanese Election; why not for one of the most important states in India which has population more than 100 Million?
3. Mr. Thackery espoused a peculiar brand of politics, very typical for a young Democracy with non-developed economy. Hence, what happens to that 'polity' is an experiment of much significance.

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