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Bal Thackeray’s estranged son Jaidev contests his father's will that divides 'Matoshree'

Bal Thackeray’s estranged son Jaidev has contested his father’s will, which divides Matoshree amongst Jaidev’s own son and Thackeray’s youngest son Uddhav.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Feb 22, 2014, 12.00 PM IST
Thackeray’s estranged son Jaidev has contested his father’s will that divides the house among the party, Jaidev’s own son and Thackeray’s youngest son Uddhav. (Image: Entrance to Matoshree)
Thackeray’s estranged son Jaidev has contested his father’s will that divides the house among the party, Jaidev’s own son and Thackeray’s youngest son Uddhav. (Image: Entrance to Matoshree)
MUMBAI: Few people turn up late to meet the chief minister of a state. In 1995, when Rebecca Mark, the famously stylish CEO of Enron, kept Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi waiting, he was predictably furious and refused to meet her. But he had to backtrack when he came to know the reason for the delay.

She had stopped to pay her respects at Matoshree, the residence of Balasaheb Thackeray, the autocratic head of the Shiv Sena, Joshi’s own party. That was the heyday of the bungalow in Mumbai’s Bandra East, which is now, more than a year after Thackeray’s death, the focus of a dispute that threatens to deeply embarrass the Sena.

Thackeray’s estranged son Jaidev has contested his father’s will that divides the house among the party, Jaidev’s own son and Thackeray’s youngest son Uddhav, who has also inherited other substantial assets. Mumbai, like Kolkata and Chennai, still follows the legal tradition, dating from their status as British Presidency towns, which requires wills to be probated, and this has given Jaidev the chance to challenge the will and also raise questions about the claimed value of the property.

This in turn threatens to bring to light, inconveniently close to a major election, the question of how much exactly the Thackeray family amassed during their patriarch’s years in power. Such problems didn’t seem likely when Kalanagar was developed as a colony for artists and writers. Its location wasn’t great, close to a tract of swampy land and the malarial Mithi river.

But the government was proposing to reclaim the land and build a new business district on it, and it was just off the road from Santa Cruz airport into town. Thackeray was already on his way to political power when he moved in, but he had first made his name as a cartoonist and it suited him to claim a place based on that status.

Thackeray knew the value of being a political contrarian. His career was built on being provocative, on refusing to abide by the consensus on how politics was played towards the end of the Nehruvian era when he came to power.

Moving north from Dadar, where his party had its roots, was also being contrarian since Mumbai’s power always lay in the south of the city. Malabar Hill, the most premium neighbourhood in South Mumbai, was where the chief minister’s bungalow, Varsha, was located, and where many senior politicians had their official homes. Thackeray was offered one of these bungalows.

In 1997, the state government urged him to take one for reasons of security. There were few bungalows left in Kalanagar by then, with tall buildings taking their place and the state worried that people out to attack Thackeray could use them as a vantage point.

But Thackeray always refused to move (other than for a short period when the original single-storey bungalow was demolished and the current three-storey structure came up in its place).

Populist politicians know the value of keeping a distance from the usual positions of power – Arvind Kejriwal’s refusal to move into a Lutyens zone house during his brief chief ministership is one example. Bill de Blasio’s agonising after being elected mayor of New York over moving from his Brooklyn base to the official mansion shows how this is a universal issue.

Thackeray also knew how the location helped him appear both detached yet subtly omnipresent. Unlike remote Malabar Hill, where hardly anyone went, thousands would stream everyday down the Western Expressway past the entrance to Kalanagar where the constant police presence was a reminder of who lived there. It was also easier for his devotees to reach.

On March 17, 1995, soon after the Sena won the state elections for the first time, the Times of India (ToI) reported how “hundreds of Shiv Sainiks, most of them from rural areas, flocked to the colony for a darshan of their beloved leader.” Among them, the paper noted, were “some well-turned out industrialists” and Thackeray knew they would come.

Matoshree was his court where, in a very public show of power, sycophants, supplicants and even possible opponents came – Thackeray knew that even the latter could help build his image. While writing Maximum City, his brilliant book on Mumbai, people kept asking Suketu Mehta when he was going to see Thackeray, and finally he did: “We are shown to a hall filled with pictures of Shivaji.

There are many chairs facing a door. All the people seated are staring at the door, willing it to open.” Some people dreaded it. An unnamed Sena leader told ToI in 2009 about the fear of the summons: “A phone-call from Matoshree meant a stiff warning, a diktat or a pat on the back – the latter was, of course, rare.”

Thomas Blom Hansen, in Wages of Violence, his study of the Sena, noted how one source of Thackeray’s power was his unpredictability. “He rules through the anxiety his gaze and presence instill in sainiks, especially the intermediate leaders who constantly doubt themselves, wondering what he sees in them.” Waiting at Matoshree to find out was the key ritual in this.

Joshi might have been installed in Varsha, but he knew very well that Matoshree was where the real power lay, and sure enough, not long after Marks was late to meet him, he was summoned to surrender power. In 1998, Shishir Shinde, one of those intermediate leaders who had been directly involved in a violent campaign against Sunil Dutt, the Congress MP, felt the ground slip under him when Dutt humiliated himself by seeking Thackeray’s help to free his son, Sanjay Dutt.

Thackeray announced he was supporting Dutt and when Shinde was summoned to Matoshree, he feared the worst. Instead he found a solicitous Thackeray with a doctor to treat Shinde’s back problem – no one knew what could happen at Matoshree! National political leaders also made the pilgrimage to Matoshree, but Thackeray could be curiously uninterested in meeting them. When Deve Gowda, during his brief prime ministership, came seeking his support, Thackeray deflected him from Matoshree by saying that he couldn’t provide sufficient security (the meeting happened at Amitabh Bachchan’s house, and went nowhere). But there was no problem when Michael Jackson came calling (and famously used the toilet).

Matoshree was Thackeray’s stage and he knew that an image driven era popstar would count for more than prime ministers. In his interview with Mehta, Thackeray claimed he didn’t care about his place in history. This might seem like a politician’s usual affectation of humility, but this was one trait he never claimed and so perhaps the assertion is true.

Thackeray lived for the now and didn’t care for consequences or the future – if he was alive, he could reinvent himself, and if he wasn’t, who cared. This is why Matoshree was never likely to be reduced to the usual fate of the homes of major politicians, becoming museums to them which no one ever visits.

Being torn apart in a property dispute might seem a dismal alternative, but perhaps it is one Thackeray would have appreciated, perhaps even planned, by leaving a contentious will. His politics were always built on the creative use of discord so it was only appropriate that even his personal domain should end that way.
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