Mumbaikars are known to shrug, grin and get going with their lives in the metro.
Forget about the grandly titled Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra for the moment. It is obvious to all that what we are witnessing is a maha ghotala, with a strange bunch of people getting together to form a government by hook or by crook (more crook, less hook) with just a single-point agenda — power-grabbing. It is nothing more than a moneymaking opportunity for most of them. Sharad Pawar has outfoxed everyone, including Mota Bhai Amit Shah and emerged as the wiliest of them all. This may have come as a surprise to those who have not followed Pawar’s trajectory (clearly, his nephew Ajit Pawar forgot a few key chapters), but close observers of the Maratha strongman will be able to trot out hundreds of incidents from the past which stand testimony to his cunning and guile. Nothing wrong with any of this — which successful politician can survive without employing both? Now with Mr Pawar being in such an enviable position, it will be interesting to monitor all the new real estate deals that get sealed while this lot is in power.
A few days before the dramatic swearing-in ceremony, I was attending an evening of Sufi music on the lawns of our historic museum in Mumbai. There on stage was an astonishing performer from rural Maharashtra. He was leading his troupe of traditional Gondhal artistes (mainly from Pandharpur) with infectious zest and energy. Nandesh Umap sang devotional songs, but with an earthy, naughty twist. He himself was dressed in a floor length angarkha created out of 50 m of handspun fabric (maybe this authentic costume had inspired designer Rohit Bal?). The rough translation of “Gondhal” is “confusion”. Several threads create a revue-like performance, which provides a sharp commentary on life and issues. “Gondhal” is entertaining all right. But it is not mere “entertainment”. It can also be watched as a satirical critique on society. Nandesh sang an old favourite of mine — “Vinchhoo Chawala”. Vinchhoo is the Marathi name for the deadly scorpion. And “chhawala” means a bite. We know what happens when a person gets bitten by a scorpion — right? Listening to the lusty rendition of the old hit (frequently performed by lavni dancers), my mind kept wandering to what was going on a few kilometres from where I was seated. A farcical new government had been announced — that’s what. No, not the latest one with Uddhav Thackeray as chief minister, but the earlier crazily shortlived one featuring Devendra Fadnavis. Here’s the question: Who was the scorpion and who the victim? That there was a maha “gondhal” going on, with Maharashtra’s pliant and very accommodating governor playing the starring role, was the most annoying part of the political narrative. That night, I am sure countless citizens of India’s premier state felt totally let down and betrayed. We’d been had!
The story remains unchanged today. We have seen two swearing-in ceremonies within a week. Fadnavis’ aborted second term lasted for 80 hours. And let’s not forget Ajit Pawar as his deputy! What a monumental joke! But nobody is laughing this time. Mumbaikars are known to shrug, grin and get going with their lives in the metro. But this time, the mood has shifted from being philosophical to being outraged. Who enjoys being taken for a ride? That’s the exact sentiment right now, as we wait for more tamasha. Will Ajit Pawar be back in the saddle as deputy chief minister? How’s the haggling going for more ministerial berths — who’ll bag what once the monies are in place? What happened to Aaditya Thackeray’s boasts saying he was 100 per cent ready to take on the responsibility as — listen to this — Maharashtra’s chief minister? It’s okay, honey. Daddy-O got the job, na? It’s all in the family. Relax, bachchey.
The night of the swearing-in, I was attending the 50th year celebrations of the iconic NCPA. The opening day event was a gala concert featuring musicians and dancers from overseas, and of course, our very own Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), which in a remarkably short period of time, has established itself globally. After watching graceful dancers from the Abay Kazakh State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre enchant the audience (special mention: Malika Yelchbayeva as The Swan), I got talking with a few prominent Mumbaikars. Some had managed to catch a few clips of the ceremony on television, some had deliberately skipped watching the pantomime. But everybody without an exception expressed disgust and concern about the state of Maharashtra’s politics. Whether Uddhav and the Thackeray family move out of Balasaheb’s stronghold “Matoshree” and into “Varsha” — the official residence of the chief minister — is not important. We want to know what Uddhav’s plans are for the immediate future. How will we benefit as citizens? Patience is running out. On that lawn at Nariman Point, as we mingled with the cosmopolitan crowd, made up of so many different nationalities, it was easy to lull ourselves from facing the stark reality of “convenience store” politics being played out at another historic venue — Shivaji Park, less than 10 km away. The irony was not missed by anybody. The optics were there for all to see and deconstruct. Uddhav Thackeray lay prostrate on the stage, bowing to the people of Maharashtra after taking the oath. It is a good gesture. It shows humility. Not the quality one associates with the Shiv Sena. If Uddhav’s gesture does indeed go beyond symbolism and a great photo-op, at least it can be taken as a positive start to what one sincerely hopes is a government that will work for the good of the people. Jai Maharashtra!