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SRK-Shiv Sena standoff not as heroic or villainous


Monday, February 08, 2010 11:17:04 AM, Mayank Chhaya, IANS

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In the Shah Rukh Khan-Shiv Sena standoff the heroism is not as heroic and villainy not as villainous as some in the media are projecting.


Khan “standing up” to the Sena is as much a broadcast media driven narrative as Bal Thackeray’s “threats and intimidation.” At its core it is nothing more than a fading 84-year-old rabble rouser’s personal need for attention and losing battle to burnish a very thin legacy. It must not be a happy thought for Thackeray that 44 years after he founded it the Shiv Sena’s single-point strategy has not evolved beyond street-level goon politics to mine some nuisance value.


Bashing up a few bystanders, tearing down a few posters, ransacking a few offices and pushing around defenceless citizenry to extract donations have pretty much been the extent of the Sena’s political vision for as long as it can be traced. In many ways the Shiv Sena is nothing more than Thackeray’s own unsubstantiated grand view of the self which became an anachronism not too long after it was formed.


Like all family owned and run quasi-political outfits around the world, the Shiv Sena too is swift at plucking low-hanging fruits and beat them into some quick political pulp. With his own nephew Raj having ditched him and son Uddhav not politically adding up to a whole lot, the patriarch did not have much option but to pull out an old trick or two.


There was no way the Sena could have passed up on Khan’s somewhat Boy Scout worldview, especially the way it was expressed in the context of the Thackeray’s favorite target - Pakistan. The Sena’s 486 processor could not have executed a more complex task than ‘Shah Rukh Khan who is a Muslim star who is releasing a movie ‘My Name is Khan’ and loves Pakistani cricketers; so get him.’


While some sections of the breathless broadcast media are applauding Khan’s “extraordinary courage” in taking on Thackeray, a more sober appraisal would reveal nothing of the kind. The 44-year-old Khan has merely stood his ground in defence of his very reasonable and amiable take on the controversy over the failure of T20 cricket team owners to bid for a single Pakistani player. It is a sign of the times that something as routine as expressing one’s beliefs and sticking to them is being spun as an act of courage under fire. It is true that the Thackerays and the Sena did hold out some fairly equivocal threats in case Khan did not retract his stand on the Pakistani cricketers. However, veteran Sena watchers would see nothing more than posturing in this move.


At the personal level Thackeray had long been known to get a kick out of movie stars dropping by at his residence ‘Matoshri’ in the neighborhood that is ironically called ‘Kala Nagar.’ In some ways such visits fueled his sense of grandiosity and reinforced his image for his followers. The kind of implied intimidation that has been used in the current instance has more often than been only a tactic to get the targeted celebrities to come and pay their respects. Placating “Balasahab” became a ritual that helped the Shiv Sena acquire a profile that was way out of sync with its real influence.


Had it not been for the past acts of violence, which were done either directly by the loosely structured Sena cadres or by their proxies, this brand of politics would have seemed like the kind of caricature that Bal Thackeray is so skilled at as a cartoonist of formidable talent. It would be a mistake to cast the latest Sena outbursts as part of some overarching political debate about foreign policy, national security, terror and India’s neighborhood. In the Sena’s collective mind it is far simpler than that. It is just a characteristically short-term tactic to stay relevant in a city that has all but turned its back on them. Also, it can be said with some levity that the fulminations mean nothing more than “Come and meet Balasahab.”


As for Khan, he would be the wiser were he not to fall for the wholly unconvincing media hype of courage under fire.


Mayank Chhaya is a US-based journalist who reported out of Mumbai throughout the 1980s. He can be contacted at



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