Mumbai, July 30: Many things make Bal Thackeray see red but today he had eyes only for an unlikely visitor in the form of Javed Miandad.
For a leader known for his intolerance of Bangladeshi migrants, “some anti-national Muslims”, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar migrants and sometimes even his ally, the BJP, the Shiv Sena chief did not let off Miandad that easy either.
“I like Javed as a cricketer but I cannot forget the six he hit off Chetan Sharma to win the Australasia Cup in Sharjah in 1986,” Thackeray said in a backhanded compliment.
The former Pakistan captain and coach called on Thackeray at his Bandra home, Matoshree, in the company of his former adversary, Dilip Vengsarkar.
The atmosphere had a festive and congratulatory air about it though Thackeray is known for his unbending opposition to cricketing ties between India and Pakistan, a resolve that has got stronger after the Kargil war. Sena cadre have dug pitches out of shape before India-Pakistan face-offs.
Today, however, the Sena patriarch’s son Uddhav beamed while looking fondly at Miandad. Even the usually grouchy Raj, Thackeray’s nephew and leader of the Sena’s youth and student wing, did not care to hide his smile.
“I am overwhelmed by the warmth and affection showered by Bal Thackeray,” Miandad said after spending over an hour with the Sena leader. “It was just a courtesy call,” he added, brushing aside any meaning that may be read into his visit.
The Sena strongman said that for all the thaw in bilateral relations, the time had not yet come for full fledged sports ties. “I am not opposed to cricket (ties). But I am opposed to cricket ties between India and Pakistan due to what has happened in the past... like (in) Kargil.”
He was quick to add that politicians on both sides were to blame as people across the borders wanted peace.
Thackeray, however, made a concession for his guest. “… but since Javed has come, I’ll talk to leaders of my party and then decide on what is to be done.” The Sena chief even slowly nodded in agreement when Miandad said it would be better “if we forget the past and think of the future”.
Miandad was all praise for his host. “He was very warm and friendly… much better than I had imagined. He likes cricket.”
Vengsarkar, the vice-president of Mumbai Cricket Association, said he was in favour of India-Pakistan cricket ties in Mumbai, “provided the Sena chief permits it”.
Miandad also met Chetan Sharma today.