bal Thackeray: My Reflections

Bal Thackeray: My Reflections

Harish Shetty

I have not seen a funeral as big as that of Bal Thackeray’s in my own lifetime. And that set me thinking. Close to 10 % people of the city were there and many more watched it on Television. For millions he was ‘Balasaheb’ , the word invoked as much awe as much as fear, inspired so much reverence and love as much as anger and hate.

He was an enigma and his impact on the city and the state of Maharashtra is unparalleled after independence. This needs to be understood and analysed by social scientists and others as much as we have understood and analysed Mahatma Gandhi. This sentence will raise many eyebrows but the fact is that both made tectonic terrific impacts, one on the nation and the other largely in western India.

My memories go back as a small child when people from South India were terrified of him. We grew up hearing the sentence uttered by Shiv Sainiks, ‘ Utthav Lungi, bajao pungi’. Bal Thackeray targeted the south indians and attacked restaurants run by them. Many were burnt down. The ire was so much as the Sena believed that those from south deprived the locals from jobs. ‘Marmik’ a periodical then carried a letter written by a south indian written to his relatives to come to Bombay so that they can be employed in his office. Slowly he made peace with the South Indian businessmen…..and had businesses along with them

One malyali and the entire office would be dominated by them. It was true then that the local ‘Marathi’ manoos did not assert and it would not be wrong to say that they were swept away by Indians from other parts of the country. Bal Thackeray changed this. His methods were aggressive. The ‘Sthaniya Lokadhikar samiti ‘ was born as a wing of the sena that fought for jobs for the locals. If Mr Thackeray would have followed Gandhiji’s policy of ‘Satyagraha’ and ‘Non Violence’ would he have succeeded is a question that is very debatable.

I have mixed feelings for Bal Thackeray. A cartoonist par excellence he gave birth to the character, ‘kaka saheb’ as similar to the ‘common man’, R.K.Laxman created. He was a fantastic cartoonist. The Shiv Sena was supported by the Congress then so that they could be a foil against the communists who were very strong in the areas such as ‘lalbaug’ where workers resided. It was the leaders of the Congress such as S.K.Patil and V.P.Naik who closed their eyes then just as the present leaders are propping M.N.S to split the Sena-B.J.P vote today. The Krishna Desai murder case was an infamous incident that was blamed on the Sena. He was a Communist MLA and was killed in 1970. Many were convicted and the accused then had Ram Jethmalani as their lawyer.

Across time the Sena grew from strength to strength. In my opinion the biggest conribution towards Maharashtra was to awaken the ‘Asmita’ of the Marathi Manoos. He gave them jobs, he gave them confidence. I still remember an incident of the 70’s when I had gone to the Bandra court to file an application for a ‘Domicile’ certificate. This was a requirement for applying for M.B.B.S. I was told to come after lunch by the officer as the first half of the day was meant for Maharashtrians and the second half for others. I shared that I was one but he refused. I was angry and upset.

Many Govt officers who were Marathi speaking behaved like Shiv Sainiks. Communal riots were frequent in India since Independence. The first communal riot in Mumbai was that between Parsis and Pathans in the latter half of the 19th century and had a lot of economic reasons for the same. Around the 70’s Imam Bukhari, Syed Shahabuddin and many leaders would spit venom on the hindus and the Congress Govt at the centre would not take action. The muslim votes were very important and the Congress cultivated it thereby slowly angering the hindus. It was Mulayam Singh Yaday who tore into the Imam’s strong hold and secured muslim votes by confronting the Imam and not appeasing him. The Hindu ire was increasing across the country.

In 1975 Indira Gandhi the then PM imposed EMERGENCY in the country as her election was made null and void by the Allahabad High Court. Instead of upholding the principles of democracy and resigning she turned a dictator. I was a teenager then and swa hundreds of youth courting arrest in mumbai and across the country. They belonged to the R.S.S, R.S.D, Communists, Jan Sangh and various political parties…….Bal Thackeray supported the EMERGENCY and did not oppose the totalitarian regime of Indira Gandhi.

I was impressed by the revoltionaries and spent some time with the young who courted arrest. I admired Indiraji but the Emergency broke all my bonds with her. As the Hindu brigade began growing in strength they conducted many national programs at Hindu Jan Jagran. The conversion of many hindus into Islam at Meenakshipuram provoked this. A large section of hindus were getting insecure and kashmir was boiling in the 80’s with 1989 being a year when a lot of hindu pandits left the valley. The Ram temple agitation began and the hindu wave was growing strategically planned by RSS leaders such as Moropant Pingle etc.

Bal Thackeray suddenly shifted his goal post. From Marathi Manoos he moved to Hindutva………In 1993 he also openly stated that it was Shiv Sainiks who brought down the Babri Mosque. Bal Thackeray was crowned the leader of the hindus and in a million hearts he was perceieved as their protector. He rode the crest of the Hindutva wave and spoke un equivocally for all hindus. None of the leaders in the RSS or the BJP had so much charisma as Mr Thackeray. The Gujuratis, the north indians lapped it. Bal Thackeray periodically reacted to many events……name plates across shops, pakistani cricketers coming to mumbai and many others…………..He never spoke about castes and only about hindus…..He opposed the reservation policy of the Govt initiated by Prime Minister V.P.Singh on the basis of the Mandal Commission and yet won the state elections for the first time more than 10 years ago.

I have heard a few speeches…….He had a magnetic charm and was a great orator.He chatted with the audience. He made fun of every one including his alliance partners…no malice but just fun….and he shared in an interview, ‘My father told me, do not give speeches but chat with the audience’. He has made fun of every one from , Sonia Gandhi, Sachin Tendulkar to all the Gandhis.Recently when Pranab Mukherji came to meet him to secure his support Mr Thackeray was sitting on his ‘throne’ [a seat at a higher level ] and Mr Mukherji was sitting on a sofa. Mr Thackeray did not care. He said what he felt. The sarcasm, the digs probably beyond the fun helped the masses look up at a leader who appeared all powerful and ready to stand up for their rights. His actions were controversial. He criticised and stopped the Pakistani cricket team from coming to India but yet invited Javed Miandad for a meal. Actors such as Dilip Kumar would drop by for a drink. His hair dresser and his doctors were Muslims……

And when INDIRA GANDHI was assasinated by a ferw Sikhs……Mr Thackeray thundered that he would kick them out from mumbai in 1984.. Shamsher Singh of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat with noted journalists D.V.Gokhale and Vidyadhar Gokhale rushed to meet him. He heard them out for 4 hours and reveresed his stand. I and my friends addressed many groups in the Gurudwaras building the confidence and helping all know that the terrorists those killed INDIRA GANDHI were different and not true Sikhs.

His digs were largely ignored but a decade ago three young men were angry and one of them was me. We issued a press note then that was titled, ‘tyaag kara aani nantar bola’ .This appeared in Navakal and Loksatta.We argued that Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena had no guts to oppose the EMERGENCY……..did not march to the Golden Temple that they promised during the khalistani movement…….and many others. Those were the days when the Sena and B.J.P were joining in an alliance in Maharashtra…

Shiv Sena penetrated communities through chawl committees, ganesh utsav mandals, kabaddi spardas, under hand cricket, dahi handis etc……..and other comunity activities.

Hindu Muslim riots have hurt both the communities and Bal Thackeray made no pretensions at openly exhorting the hindus to react. Many innocents died. Mahatma Gandhi would have gone on a fast if he was alive in 1993 after the Babri Mosque was demolished just as he did at Naokhali in the 40;s after a riot. Mr Thackeray believed in openly exhorting the hindus………

I have seen riots from close quarters and have worked at Gujarat , Mumbai and conducted workshops to prevent the same in various parts of INDIA. I always wonder if Mr Thackeray would have used the ‘Satyagraha’ things would have been different…..I do not know………I strongly abhor violence and believe that peaceful methods are more beneficial and effective in building communities.

I have faced the ire of the Sainiks during Shiv jayanthi years ago but stood up to it and did not yield….I explained to them the History of Shivaji as told to me by Babasaheb Purandare……and others. Needless to say that Jantha Raja is one of my best plays I have ever watched. I approached the cops when reasoning failed.Nothing happened. The boys sobered down and are healthy citizens today and are doing well………

I was driving towards town on the day of the funeral………every body was paying obesience on the street including the constables………My Doctor colleagues also went for the funeral…….Every one who was there felt that they had lost a family member.That was the impact he had………..As I drive today I still see the posters and some by Congress leaders….He was soft hearted and has invited home people of different religions, different denominators for drinks and dinner…but his politics was of assertion….and aggression….He was rich and that did not matter for the masses that loved him….He was a papa figure post Independence for the marathi manoos and many hindus just like Annadurai or MGR was for the tamilians and NTR was for telugu speaking. He was perceieved by the people as Ramdas Swami+ Shivaji a seer and a warrior.

They believed that he was their God on earth……..


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