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Mumbai drops jaw at the sight of bearded Tiger
- Election-bound Maharashtra has a big puzzle: What lies beneath Thackeray’s chin guard

Mumbai, Aug. 26: Star Trek buffs have heard about another Captain Spock in a parallel universe. How could he be told' Simple: he wore a goatee.

Shiv Sena diehards were stumped yesterday when they spotted their idol Bal Thackeray sporting — not a goatee — but a beard.

If Sena supporters were wondering if this was Thackeray in a new avatar, the Tiger himself set doubts at rest. “People might think I have changed my religion,” he said.

“I have not. I nicked myself while shaving. The doctor has advised me not to shave for a week,” he added.

But not everyone is ready to buy the explanation. Would a mundane razor cut, that too on his chin, prompt the Tiger to beard himself'

The beard — a neatly-trimmed fringe along the curve of his chin, unsupported by a moustache, though contrasted by black hair on top of his head, and reminiscent more of Abe Lincoln than Aby Baby — is much more than a facial embellishment.

It is the Sena’s only electoral issue in its home ground that is going to polls in October. In the absence of any other issue — the Sena has not been able to whip up enough passion even on Veer Savarkar — some Sena supporters are wondering whether electoral fortunes can be tweaked by the careful snip of scissors.

Adman Prahlad Kakkar approves the new look and points out its electoral benefits. “He can now try for minority votes,” says Kakkar. “He will also get the votes of Amitabh Bachchan fans.”

Astrologers are on the side of Thackeray’s beard. “There are complications for the Congress-NCP government. The beard sprouted on 22/8/2004 adds up to 36 and points to sliding fortunes for Sharad Pawar,” says Deepika Parikh, an astro-numerologist.

This is the first time in recent memory that Thackeray is sprouting a beard. Many years ago, he had tried out a moustache. The beard does score over the moustache when it comes to influencing people and winning votes, if psychologists are to be believed.

“The male beard,” after all, says psychologist Robert J. Pellegrini in Psychology, 1973, Volume 10, No. 1, “communicates a heroic image of the independent, sturdy, and resourceful pioneer, ready, willing and able to do many things.

Some of the voters also seem to be struck by the beard.

“The Sena has not been able to take the full advantage of the Congress-NCP’s failure to contain drought, the Telgi scam or the death of cotton farmers,” says Abhay Deshpande, a trader from Borivli.

“They have not even been able to take full advantage of Sharad Pawar’s illness and the NCP’s dissidence. There are only two things that can help them – the Ganapati festival and the beard.”

Inside every clean-shaven man there is a beard screaming to be let out, they say. Maybe, Thackeray held his back till the right time.

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