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Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bombay burns again

Bal Thackeray's lumpens are at it again. After his nephew Raj stuck the Sena a body blow by raising the flag of rebellion, the boys were looking lost till some muck was literally thrown on the face of a Thackeray.

Unfortunately it happened to be only a bust of Meenatai, the elder Thackeray's late wife who passed away nearly a decade ago. That the bust was installed at Shivaji Park, a stone's throw from party headquarters Sena Bhavan, only added insult to injury.

The spark was lit after Uddhav, the unassuming son and heir of Thackeray, came to see the damage and expressed his anguish. Broken hearted supporters decided that it was old times once again that called for some stiff doses of pyromania.

The first to burn was a Volvo bus, the air-conditioned model of middle-class comfort, so near and yet so far for the middle-aged thugs past their sell by date in the new Bombay. Several of these symbols of India's fast liberalizing economy bore the brunt of the Shiv Saniks' existentialist angst today.

The past decade has seen the once lean, mean and hungry tiger of the Shiv Sena grow fat on the spoils of office. Bal Thackeray, who kicked off the party at the Shivaji Park 40 years ago, is no longer the poor cartoonist of old. He and his family are immensely rich, the silk shawls and imported SUVs are testimony to that. His one-time lieutenants have moved up the ladder as well and become experts in backroom deals.

Thackeray's streetfighters who were left out of the party however decided to flex some of their muscles today. Out were the blackboards, the Sena's equivalent of the jungle telegraph. The clarion call to the faithful beckoned for shopfronts to be trashed, pubs preparing for the world cup final to be smashed.

The cops were of course left twiddling their thumbs. Bombay's police commissioner A N Roy promised to catch the culprits but also threatened to crack down on the Shiv Sena. A few unfortunate souls may well catch the business end of the cop's boots but it is unlikely that the culprits who vandalized Meenatai's bust would ever be caught.

But the Shiv Sena has had a dose of viagra injected up its middle-aged veins. Elections to the Bombay Municipal Corporation are due next year and with little to show for its 20 years in office, the party is looking to reverse its flaccidity. It remains to be seen if Sunday's orgy is a curtain-raiser to some good times or just a painful memory of the past that slipped away.

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