Overstating a claim may be necessary, but not always salutary. That is what Raj Thackeray’s effort at claiming the chauvinistic legacy of his uncle, Bal Thackeray, would suggest. The “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians” mindset, once the Shiv Sena’s USP, now hijacked — or brought into serious contention — by the assault against north Indians by Mr Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, has generated a violence and a bitterness that cannot easily be lived down. But it could be asked whether Mr Raj Thackeray would like to live it down at all, or dine off it for some time to come. The conflict he has created, or re-created, could still be the making of him. But then, he might have to dine off it in jail, because the police have at last filed a case against him. He may have, according to the charges, helped provoke a riot, promoted enmity between groups on the basis of place of birth, language and so on, and acted in a way that goes against harmony and national integration. Once arrested, he would not get bail, and could be imprisoned for three years. The MNS leader does not have a lot of visible friends at the moment. The chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, seems to be under some pressure from the North and from Bihar, demanding that Mr Raj Thackeray be taught a lesson. Messrs Bal and Uddhav Thackeray are busy reclaiming lost ground for the Shiv Sena — through more of the same. And the biggest brother is very disapproving. L.K. Advani has stated clearly that the Bharatiya Janata Party finds parochialism unacceptable.
Mr Advani’s remarks, criticizing “whichever party” was creating the rift between the North and Maharashtra for going against the Constitution and against national unity, seem directed against both the senior and junior Senas. Taking this position was not easy; the BJP had been trying to be friendly again with the Shiv Sena since the two parties had disagreed on whom to vote for as president, the Maharashtrian Pratibha Patil or the BJP favourite, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The new surge of provincial violence has forced the BJP back to the side of its north Indian voters. But the MNS leader might be quite happy to go to jail. In India, going to jail for politics is always martyrdom, always noble. It would be far more meaningful if all political outfits, big or small, were to be banned without exception for doing the things Mr Raj Thackeray is being charged with. The picture could change, even if slightly.