TNN 17 November 2009
Ageing Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray on Monday alienated himself from millions of Indians when he attacked the country's icon and Maharashtra's most loved son, Sachin Tendulkar, for saying that "Mumbai belonged to all Indians". In an editorial in the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, Thackeray, warned Sachin to "keep off the political pitch" for his own well-being. Or else, he would have "run out" from Marathi minds.
Bmaestro and iconic Maharashtrian Sachin Tendulkar had said responding to a specific query at a media meet in New Delhi on the eve of completing 20 years in international cricket on 13 November 2009, "Mumbai is for all Indians. Mumbai belongs to India. That is how I look at it. And I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that but I am an Indian first."
While 82-year-old Thackeray's attack appears to have been motivated by competitive politics with his nephew, Raj, to appear as a bigger champion of Marathi interests, it appears to have backfired. Parties cutting across political lines and Marathi intellectuals and civil society leaders expressed their disgust at Thackeray's editorial which, they said, was "worthy of the dustbin".
In that sense, the attack on Sachin Tendulkar -- as Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan said -- has united India. Thackeray's editorial addressed the legendary cricketer to say: "What was the need to say this? Your remark has cut through every Marathi heart... Mumbai may be India's commercial capital. But don't ever forget that it is Maharashtra's capital."
The Sena supremo advised Sachin not to stray into politics: "Keep this in mind -- people praise you when you hit a six or a four. However, don't use your tongue to bat against the just and legitimate rights of the Marathi `manoos'. They will not like it." Thackeray signed off the letter with an "affectionate warning": "Don't lose on the pitch of politics whatever you have earned on the cricketing pitch".
Thackeray also reminded Tendulkar of the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation for the inclusion of Mumbai in the linguistic Marathi state. The stir in the 1950s claimed 105 lives of Marathis who fell to the bullets of the then Morarji Desai state government.
Alarmed by the Sena leader's warning, BCCI vice president Rajiv Shukla said Thackeray should be brought to book while a furious Lalu Prasad said, "Sachin is a national hero. Who is Bal Thackeray to comment on him?" Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari said, "The real place for Bal Thackeray's statement is the dustbin."
The BJP was relatively muted -- its leader Arun Jaitley said there was nothing in Sachin's statement to warrant the charge of betrayal. "The greatest cricketer said he is a proud Maharashtrian and Indian...we see no problem in it." BJP's ally in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, said Sachin's remark had lifted the image of India.