HE HAS the literati fuming, television channels debating, columnists penning scathing opinions and the average Indian wondering if indeed freedom of expression is a birthright. But the man of the moment, Aditya Thackeray, is ignoring the storm he has whipped up — because there is a history exam to take. The 20-year-old third year student at St Xavier’s recently got Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey struck off the university syllabus because it criticised his grandfather — an event that coincided with his official induction into the Shiv Sena as the leader of the youth wing. As he stood alongside his grandfather and father at the Sena’s annual Dussehra rally last week as the new face of the Sena, bets were being laid across the nation — will this English-educated Thackeray reverse the Sena’s fate, or will he, like his father, watch helplessly as the party disintegrates?
Journalist Mahesh Mhatre, who has followed the Sena’s shenanigans for decades, says, “This Rohinton Mistry issue was stage-managed. But like an old Marathi saying goes: If there is no water in the well, no use trying different ways to get it out. They are using him as their last attempt to get back into the game, and are fielding him against Raj. But it won’t work — firstly, because all their issues are non-issues, and secondly because Raj has the kind of charisma Aditya will never have. Though he is intelligent, simple and good natured, he also has a chip on his shoulder. I met him at a party, where he got a call from a Shiv Sainik on his cell phone. The way he warned the worker to never call him on his personal number again was very surprising!”
For his classmates, Aditya is just another student in St Xavier’s: genial, friendly but dressed weirdly in tiger motifs. “He was known as the Sena boy only in the first year, because he came to college with bodyguards. But now, he’s just like us,” says Poonam Burde, a third year sociology student. “He had a right to object to the book, but the fault was the vice-chancellor’s. How can you just take a decision overnight?” she adds. Another friend, Clyde Galbao, who studied with Aditya until last year, laughs, “Aditya is very normal, except that his jokes are horrible. He is nice to everyone and rarely talks about politics, but he does have intelligent opinions on everything.”
Interestingly, until five years ago, Aditya wanted to go abroad to study international law. Why he suddenly took such a detour is a point to ponder, says Kumar Ketkar, editor of Marathi daily Loksatta. “We have had many dinners together and Aditya came across as intelligent and sensitive. I was glad there was one sensible Thackeray at last. And now he has joined the Sena! He can’t speak one line of Marathi without the Bombay Scottish accent. I don’t think he can indulge in mindless militancy like the other Shiv Sainiks, but has entered politics just because of family pressure.”
The Shiv Sena is standing firm on its ground that Aditya is the face of tomorrow that will propel them ahead, and is in no way competing with Raj. “How can you compare the two? Raj is 42 years old and Aditya just 20. He is neither like Balasaheb nor Uddhav, he is simply Aditya and he will stand on his own. He has always been interested in politics and possesses the patience to be a politician,” says Sanjay Raut, editor of Saamana. “He is responsible for roping in that section of the young population that sees politics as unnecessary and is interested in technology. As far as the Rohinton Mistry issue is concerned, he doesn’t need an issue to be launched. He is Bal Thackeray’s grandson and that is enough.”
For his classmates, Aditya is just another student dressed weirdly in tiger motifs
BUT IS it? The Shiv Sena, like the BJP, has been suffering in an India that brushes aside right-wing politics and keeps development centrestage. Choosing the subject of a book as a vehicle of his initiation into the party sends out the message that the young Thackeray conforms to Sena ideology. Princeton University historian Gyan Prakash notes, “In attacking Rohinton Mistry’s book, Aditya is following a well-known script as a rite of passage into Shiv Sena politics — to get street cred as an authentic Sena leader. Note that he claims to have not read the whole book but just some offending passages. How can someone who claims to represent the Marathi manoos actually admit to reading a book in English? So, the book must be turned into a symbol and attacked. Only then his own background as someone who has grown up in comfortable circumstances, studied at St Xavier’s College, and is a part of a political dynasty can be set aside to craft another image. The fact that he is English-educated will not win him a following since the whole exercise is designed to draw our attention away from that and to establish him as an authentic Marathi manoos.” Filmmaker Shyam Benegal agrees, “He has narrowed down his perspective to what Shiv Sena has always been, and the hope for a fresher approach has come crashing down.”
State politicians say they are not threatened by the third-generation Thackeray. “Their ideology is outdated and I don’t think it will make a difference unless he wants to improve on that,” says Congress MP Milind Deora. His party colleague Sanjay Nirupam, who was with the Sena from 1996 to 2005, and has known Aditya since he was a toddler, feels that only the performance of the party will determine if Aditya matters. “How can you launch the third generation when even the second hasn’t been launched properly?” he chuckles, adding, “But I wish him all the best.”
A poem called Advice written by Aditya some time back contains the lines: “If only you learn from the mistakes of the past; take lessons from the present; and plan for tomorrow.” By his own logic, then, the political debutant should now work towards saving the Shiv Sena from its own philosophy.