“I have lost all enthusiasm. The death of my wife, and later my son has shattered me. Yet, I must live. I meet people, give interviews, but I will have to retire. I am thinking of my retirement from politics. God knows, what I will do after retiring. May be gardening,” smiled a fragile looking. Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena’s supremo.
Seventy-year-old Bal Thackeray may retire in the future yet. For now, he continues to run by “remote control” the Maharashtra Government. And it is to his credit that he makes his views clear, whatever the consequences.
His target of ire right now is the Sena’s ally in Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party which, he feels, has “back stabbed” him. Even as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Manohar Joshi on Friday glossed over the Shiv Sena’s differences with the BJP and declared that their differences were resolved, the not-so-diplomatic Thackeray, in an exclusive interview blasted in BJP’s concern for “so-called scruples and principles”.
“What principles and ideology is the BJP talking about?” asks Thackeray. The crux of matter according to him is the BJP’s general secretary Pramod Mahajan personally promised Manohar Joshi that the BJP would declare “five-six” members of their party as unattached. The idea was to prevent Chhagan Bhujbal (who defected from the Sena a couple of years back to the Congress and is now an arch rival of the Chief Minister from taking over as the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council.
The five unattached BJP members in addition to the independence then would have staked their claim to the post of the opposition leader in the upper House thereby denying Bhujbal (Mr. Sharad Pawar’s confident) the role of leader of the opposition.
“Rao had recently telephoned me. We agreed to meet each other. During our conservation, I warned him about Pawar and told him that he (Pawar) will stab you as he stabbed Vasant Rao Naik in Maharashtra. Narasimha Rao then said ‘yes, I am aware of it. I am taking care’.”
According to Mr. Thackeray, even the BJP leader, L.K. Advani had approved of the plan and Mahajan committed himself to having five BJP members unattached. Matters were sailing smoothly, till the BJP did a volte-face and backed out.
Except from the interview :
The Hindustan Times: The Vaghela affair is proving to be a mystery. Is he really joining the Shiv Sena? It is alleged that the story was your way of avenging the BJP, as it did not cooperate with you in preventing Bhujbal from being elected as the leader of the opposition?
Bal Thackeray: No, it is not a matter of revenge. The BJP did promise us. They were ready and prepared. We wanted only 5-6 members (to be declared unattached). All of a sudden, they talk of what you call ideology. They backed out at the last moment. Ask Pramod Mahajan whether he had made a promise to the Chief Minister.
Q. The image of the BJP is that it is a party of principles and policiesâ€¦
A: What principles, what policies? When Manohar Joshi lost the grip as the opposition leader in 1991, BJP’s Gopinath Munde (now Deputy CM) hastily occupied the seat. He did not wait for a day, and then Congress Chief Minister Sudhakar Rao Naik agreed and made him the Opposition leader. What were the policies of the BJP during those days? They shouldn’t have done that.
If the BJP wants it, even now Bhujbal can removed. But the BJP leaders are saying “hamare karaykarta naraz honge” (our workers will be upset). Mr. Advani readily agreed to the proposal as a political strategy. I do not know what came in betweenâ€¦
Q. Recently you called for a social boycott of journalists after they reported on your son Jaidev Thackeray has alleged association with an extortionist who was nabbed by the police and later released on bailâ€¦
A: Not all, only a section of Press. They have been writing about my son Jaidev “Thackeray. He is not staying with me. He is staying independently. I am very watchful. He has not done anything. Yet, he is my son, that is his crime.
Q: Isn’t it a fact that the police entered his flat to nab the extortionist?
A: That has nothing to do with what is appearing in the Press now, why concoct things? If my son is connected with a criminal, you have the right to punish him. I have nothing to hide. If in his flat some construction work is going on, if a murderer comes and stays, what can be done? How can you blame him? What law and order situation is the Opposition in the legislature talking about? Where has it deteriorated in the State?
Q: Let me specific. When the alleged extortionist was released on bail, it was reported that there was a cavalcade of cars to receive him and the official investigating the case was transferredâ€¦
A: I do not know how true is the story about the cavalcade of cars. Not a single car came from our side. As for the police officer’s transfer, hundreds of police official were transferred recently. Why is the Press singling out just one transfer?
Q: It is said that Bal Thackeray is a person of great integrity. But his son is undermining this imageâ€¦
A: My youngest son, Uddhav is a decent person. Unfortunately, my boy, Binda Madhav who was a self-made person is no more. My nephew, Raj Thackeray is not doing anything illegal.
Q: Some reports allege that builder was taken to the Saamna office and beaten up and made to sign papers allegedly on behalf of Raj Thackeray.
A: No, it is not true.
Q: Recently, the head of the Haffkine Institute, Dr. Yemul was beaten up and his face blackened by Senamen and then he was dragged to your residence.
A: Yes, that is true. The boys brought him here. They have a reason. He has done many things. But I did not know that they (his boys) would blacken his face.
Q: Do you feel that the face of the person heading Haffkine should be blackened?
A: There are way and means. Because we blacken his face, it is bad. Congressmen burn their wives in tandoor. Blackening someone’s face is not wrong. We often say tera much kala. My boys only implemented it practically.
Q: Recently, Senamen garlanded an official of Nippon Denro in Amravati with chappalsâ€¦.
A: The way some of them (the officials) behave, it is bad. For example, you are a journalist. The man you are asking information from rudely says paper me hai to kay? Baap to nahi? Won’t you get offended?
Q: Coming back to Jaidev Thackeray, reports have talked about his links with the extortionist
A: Some newspapers are writing about it and drawing parallels as if he is Narasimha Rao’s son. I am all for justice. If he is guilty, I will not side with him. But a section of the Press is making a mountain out of a molehill; they are looking at the incident with coloured glasses.
A: Because he is my son. And I am a political opponent. The man who was arrested (Keshav Poojari) is a cable operator. They are restricting their write-up about that incident and blowing it up.
Q: Who are they?
A: Journalists of two local newspapers. Whenever, the Maharashtra Assembly session is about to begin, the Opposition wants issues to attack me, my Government. Everyday, these two papers are publishing some or the other canard. Recently, they published a photograph saying that Jaidev Thackeray was engaged in illegal construction is? It is a covering made in his balcony. A pandal. He has some birds in his balcony and he wants to protect them. Yet, a lot of noise was made about that covering. Both the papers are politically motivated. They are Sharad Power’s men (the journalists who are writing in these papers).
Q: Speaking of Sharad Pawar, what are his chances of succeeding Narasimha Rao in the Congress?
A: Rao had recently telephoned me. We agreed to meet each other. During our conversation, I warned him about Pawar and told him that he (Pawar) will stab you as he stabbed Vasant Rao Naik in Maharashtra. Narasimha Rao then said “Yes, I am aware of it. See, what is happening to him? That is Pawar. He is the most unscrupulous person. Never rely on him. Anyway, Rao is not weak. Rao is careful.
Q: Will Pawar rejuvenate the Congress if he succeeds Rao?
A: No Congressmen, right from Rao to Pawar has any right to accuse each other. Everyone has done some shady deal. Why doesn’t Pawar prosecute Mr. Phadnis who has written a detailed book, which exposes Pawar?
Q: What are the chances of the Congress returning to power in Maharashtra?
A: In Maharashtra, the Congress is finished until and unless, our partner, the BJP, behaves otherwise.
Q: The BJP has made a mess of itself in Gujarat. Do you really think Vaghela would join you?
A: I cannot say. Do you think that Deve Gowda would be the Prime Minister? Did you ever think that Communities would join the Government, that too a government backed by the Congress?
Q: Would you admit Vaghela in the Sena?
A: I would not like to disturb the present set-up in Gujarat and give the opportunity for the Congress to come back to power. I will lovingly tell Vaghela that it is not the right time to join us.
Q: The Shiv Sena recently completed 31 years of its existence. Do you feel that the founding principles of the party match the current Sena standards?
A: I floated the Sena to protect the legitimate rights of Maharashtrians. Basically, I was a cartoonist. I did not think that my life would take such a turn. I did not know that the Sena would achieve national status. I feel we are on the right path and have not gone astray like other parties. When we saw danger for the nation, we started fighting for the nation on various issues- Kashmir, Amarnath yatra, the issue of pro-Pak Muslims. The ISI agents are very active in Maharashtra.
Q: Mulayam Singh Yadav has floated the idea of a confederation and says that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis should be welcomedâ€¦
A: Do you mean to say that it is easy? When Pakistan is waiting to eat you, swallow you, destroy you, will its leaders accept the Utopian ideas of Yadav and his “mahasangh”? These people (Yadav and others) are not fit for such high positions. This is your democracy. People have elected such politicians from a particular region. Who could have expected that such people would get such big positions?
In any case, we have an exploding population. Pakistan need not worry. The population bomb will destroy this country.
Q: Do you still feel that there will be a civil war in 1997?
A: Yes, after this (Gowda) Government falls, it will be the beginning of the end. The army will have to intervene. Political leaders will be beaten up, murdered all over the country. Yes, our army is different. But the army has some responsibility. They will not sit idle.
Q: Even now, many people are uncomfortable with the Sena and they hold an image of the Sena as consisting of rough “goonda” elementsâ€¦â€¦
A: I am immune to such questions. Living here, enjoying all facilities, they speak like this.
Q: You mean the minorities?
A: Minorities, journalists. This air-conditioned chamber kings. They spread disinformation. It is not fair on the part of journalists.
Q: Okay, let us get back to the Sena. You are the major crowd puller for the party? After you, who takes care of the party?
A: The Sena will not be a single pole tent. My son is there, my nephew is working. Manohar Joshi is there. In any case, I want the performance of this government to get me votes. This government should perform so well that the people of this State will vote the Sena back to power.
Q: What about you? What do you intend to do. You have faced many personal problems. First your wife’s death. Then your by-pass surgery. And then your son’s death. How are you coping?
A: How can I describe the situation? The juice has gone. The motivation in me is not there. I am feeling dull and lonely. For me attachment is more important. My wife was my shadow for the last 48 years. People advised me to think of Tilak when my son died. What can I think? Yet, I have to live. I will have to think of retirement. I remember, when Vijay Merchant left cricket, many people thought it was early. He said that it was better to retire early than be retired. I am keeping that in mind. But for now, I am meeting people, giving appointments and carrying on with life.
By Ketan Narottam Tanna