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The Rediff Special / Varsha Bhosle

'Was it the Shiv Sena that divided this country?'

It's not too often that one is embarrassed by one's political naivete. It's almost never that one intuitively susses a stranger to be leader material. True, one frequently falls flat on the face in the predictions field, but I'm still willing to bet that, regardless of the Shiv Sena's fate, nothing short of an assassination can rid governmental Maharashtra of Raj Thackeray.

Raj Thackeray He's a prickly boy: very sharp at the edges, highly brash, sometimes gawky, often contemptuous, a bit too testy, and I cannot stress this enough: always aggressive. Also, terribly young for the mantle he's assumed. Some say, it's the mantle that has chosen to fall upon him. Like, shades of Rajiv Gandhi...? Perish the thought! If nothing else, and despite his protests to the contrary, Raj is no accident: He's got his goals, and they are well chalked out. Never doubt that.

What exactly do we mean when we say that a man has charisma? Attraction, charm, style, appeal, glamour? Oh yes, all of those certainly. However, the real magic is wrought by the presence of power -- whether it's the force of male personality, or of plain, but never simple, authority. It's a deadly thing to have both, and I'm not quite sure which doesn't apply to Raj. Worse, imagine what he'll be like at a ripe 38 -- after a full decade of experience and seasoning...

We met at the Saamna headquarters. The trappings of office -- applicants crowding the gate, phones ringing without a break -- are the same everywhere; to me, the Thackeray power was more evident in Raj's tone of speech. Unlike his uncle's, Raj's voice is sensually bass, but the way he speaks is exactly the same: Raj's arrogant 'kon ahe re tikde' indicated a lifetime of being always obeyed (which benefit, did Balasaheb have?) I was itching to spank him.

Like him, his surroundings were neither spartan, nor showy. It's a small, clinically clean room, and Raj's first act on entry was to pick up the cellophane I had tossed near the ashtray and deposit it in the trash basket. Which was more unsettling than the 6' x 6' mug-shot of Balasaheb glaring at me and the talwar propped up near his chair and the full array of gods in a niche. Then, out came the mobile phone and the Benson & Hedges and I almost sighed with relief: a Four Square or Charminar would have truly done me in.

We danced to the set rules of the game: He turned up a schoolbook 45 minutes late, and I pretended it was no big deal. He shut the Walkman for off the records, and I preened at the implication of trust. When I slipped in hairy queries, he affected nonchalance; and when he did thunder at a jab, I made like; what, me, intimidated? Sometimes, he flailed in a cul de sac, and I backed off with feminine grace. And when I bungled, he gallantly feigned ignorance. Somewhere betwixt, we actually managed a bit of give and take.

But through it all, my little cranial worm kept whispering 'extremely well-concealed uneasiness'. This evoked the feeling (which one would wish only upon one's worst journalistic foes and in the most sadistic of moods) that the lad needed to be protected. Yup, he aroused my Earth Mother. Considering his dreadful calling (and that he doesn't remotely resemble Rahul Khanna ), that itself was no mean achievement.

In hindsight, it was probably my patronising cynicism reacting to the enthusiasm of youth... but there was this niggling doubt that Raj hadn't yet fully developed his own, independent thoughts. For all the ardency in his convictions, they still seemed a tad, well.... borrowed. For, only after a great deal of objective reflection, and just as many be-rehem zamaaney ki thappaden, does incidental environment become a driving influence -- ie, one that can gain and retain disciples.

This interview first appeared in The Sunday Observer, India's first Sunday newspaper.


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