BALTHACKERAY has apparently climbed down. And how! He now says he believes “in the rule of law” and is now willing to fight his on going battle to absolve himself of any role in the 1992-93 riots in a court of law instead of the streets of Mumbai. “I ‘ll go right up to the Supreme Court, if needed,” a remarkably mellow Thackeray told The Hindustan Times today.
But what about his recent threats that India would burn if he was touched? “When I was jailed in Yerwada in 1969, Mumbai burned for 10 dys. The Sena’s strength then was limited to Mumbai and its vicinity. But now its strength has spread all over India. I was just cautioning people, and not holding out threats,” Mr. Thackeray said.
In that case, is he ready to go to jail? “How can I answer this question? Let the case come up and then we shall see,” he said.
The Sena supreme says that has asked his Sainiks to keep calm and not enforce a bandh even if he is arrested. “I have declared a bandh on bandh. Communal violence spreads tension.”
But why were attempts made to cripple the city last week when his imminent prosecution was announced? “Well, that was spontaneous. I have never said anything officially. When Indira was killed, what happened in Delhi? Thousands of Sikhs were killed. It was spontaneous. Who gave the call then? Did Indira Gandhi give a call? Indira was their dearest leader. It happened spontaneously. There are many people who love you so much,” Mr. Thackeray said.
Would he issue a statement to his party cadres not to disrupt life if he is arrested? “That depends on whether I am inside the jail or outside. If I am inside the jail, why should I? Is it my fault? If I am outside, my boys are not foolish to create trouble,” he said.
Dressed in his stereotypical kurta-lungi, Mr. Thackeray looked at peace with himself at Matoshree, his residence, as news filtered in that the Mumbai Police Commissioner had received the papers to prosecute him.
Mr. Thackeray said the three Shiv Sena ministers in the Vajpayee ministry could rejoin work. “They resigned because they felt suffocated that (they could do nothing) when their leader was being harassed,” he said.
So has the breathlessness eased over the last few days, particularly after Mr. Vajpayee rejected their resignation letters out of hand? “Let’s see. They can, they may, go back (to work). In any case their resignation have not been accepted,” Mr. Thackeray said.
So were the resignations merely a drama? “When we do something (like this) it is drama; what our critics do is tamasha”, Mr Thackeray said with a laugh.
The Shiv Sena supreme asserted that he “did not want to create any trouble for Prime Minister Vajpayee” who “has many problems” and “is sitting on a volcano.”
About his arrest that appears imminent, Mr Thackeray said: “Constitutionally, the Centre has its limitations. But we pointed out to the Centre there are certain provisions (in the Constitution) under which it can act. It can’t really say it is helpless (in preventing my arrest).
“Let us see whether it is a going to be an arrest or whether I receive summons. I have never said that I am above the law. These Johnny’s who kept reminding me that I am not above the law should be asked to spell the word law. I am sure that they will spell it ‘low’,” he said, breaking into a laugh.
“We have strong legal documentary evidence in my case. I may go to the Supreme Court as well. We are going to point out all the lacunae in the state government’s order to prosecute me,” Mr. Thackeray said.
Mr. Thackeray said if he has to go to jail, all he wants is an Indian style of toilet. “I go to the toilet three times a day. It is my habit. I cannot come to my home every time. If I get a western-style commode, I am not going to jail. And yes, it is a myth that I am addicted to my warm beer and cigar.”
By Ketan Narottam Tanna