Saturday, 24 November 2012

Thackeray's Historical Record - Lest We Forget


  • October 30, 1966 Thackeray's first Dusshera rally. A mob leaves the rally later to attack and burn south Indian shops and restaurants. The rally was also addressed by Congress leader Ramrao Adik. Attacks on south Indians were with the backing of CM Vasantrao Naik.
  • Mumbai 1968 Hindi films brought out by south Indian producers are stopped by Thackeray's Shiv Sainiks.
  • February 1969 Thackeray unleashes his goons against Kannadigas. 59 dead, 274 wounded, 151 cops injured in week of riots.
  • June 6, 1970 CPI MLA and trade unionist Krishna Desai murdered in first political assassination in the city since 1947.
  • January 1974 Dalit Panther leader Bhagwat Jadhav brutally killed by Thackeray's men, sparks off war with Dalits.
  • 1975-76 Thackeray shocks colleagues, praises Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency. By 1977, changes tack.
  • Jan 1982 Thackeray supports Congress in Great Textile Strike. Breaks ties under duress, goes back three years later.
  • From 1984 Shiv Sena carries out attacks on Dalit farmers in Vidarbha and Marathwada, destroying crops, burning huts.
  • 1985 Thackeray calls for expulsion of 'outsiders’, proposes 1972 as cut-off date for having moved to Maharashtra.
  • 1985 Cong CM Vasantdada Patil connives to help Shiv Sena win BMC polls with ‘Bombay part of Maharashtra’ issue.
  • March 1988 The wonderful “saviour of Sikhs” Thackeray calls for a boycott of Sikh businesses in Maharashtra.
  • 1988 Thackeray's 'boycott of Sikhs businesses' idea is quietly abandoned after extorting crores from Sikhs in Mumbai.
  • Post 1989 + Mandal riots Thackeray finds a more convenient target for his political purposes: Indian Muslims.
  • October 1991 Thackeray's thugs attack journalists, fracturing one woman's (Manimala) skull with a crowbar.
  • 1991 Thackeray takes it one step further, threatens a local judge who had ruled against his goons with blinding.
  • 1991 Thackeray's Dopahar ka Saamna editorial very sweetly compares women journalists to prostitutes.
  • 1995 Thackeray: "If they have their Dawood, then we have our Arun Gawli." Because all politicos need a personal mafia.
  • July 1996 The Ramesh Kini murder after long term intimidation. SS-BJP state govt tries to bury investigation.
  • 1997 Kini's wife accuses Raj Thackeray of his murder. HC asked CBI to investigate but Mumbai police destroys evidence.
  • July 11, 1997 Ten Dalits are killed and over 30 wounded at the Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar massacre. None were armed.
  • Republic Day, 1997 Two adivasi youths murdered. Adivasi women sexually assaulted by police and SS workers at Talasari.
  • Late 1990s SS-BJP goverment summarily withdraws over 1,100 cases of atrocities against Dalits in Marathwada.
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It’s a sight, ‘progressives’ adding to Thackeray’s iconisation


The mammoth size of the crowd of mourners who congregated at Shivaji Park in Mumbai last Sunday to bid a final adieu to Bal Thackeray foxed many of his long-time critics. They had assumed that, in his waning years, the Shiv Sena chieftain had become a pale and tragic shadow of his former, feisty self and was therefore a figure of no consequence. The assumption was well founded. A series of political setbacks and personal tragedies, followed by age-related illnesses, had taken their toll.

In his last video address, Thackeray appealed to the Sainiks to “take care” of his anointed heirs—son Uddhav and grandson Aditya—once he exited the scene. It was a pitiable sight: the patriarch, who once held his audience in thrall with his vitriolic oratory, now appeared to be frail and exhausted as he gasped for breath while he searched for the right words. The critics had therefore concluded that he was well and truly a spent force.

But by the time the funeral ended, the critics began to sing a different tune. The presence of lakhs of people, as well as that of political leaders from several parties, corporate heads and leading film stars, they acknowledged, contained a message about Thackeray’s enduring appeal, which had thus far eluded them. It related partly to his great capacity to strike bonds of friendship even with his rivals in the spheres of politics, the media, sports and cinema. He castigated them in the most acerbic terms in his public speeches, but in private, treated them with much warmth and courtesy.
Partly, too, the critics argued, Thackeray’s candour—a marked penchant to always call a spade a bloody shovel—set him apart from politicians who can rarely, if ever, mean what they say or say what they mean. The Sena patriarch’s forthrightness, often expressed in a language that bordered on the obscene, outraged his adversaries, embarrassed his allies and compelled his party leaders to squirm in their seats. But, the neo-converts claimed, it was music to the ears of his followers. They revelled in every sentence he uttered for, in their reckoning, Thackeray dared to articulate their very own sentiments.

Neo-converts to the Thackeray brand failed or refused to see the real reasons why the Marathi manoos was left behind. It was easier to see him as building marathi pride.
These were sentiments of a grievous hurt: after great sacrifices, the Marathi people had got a state of their own, but the state had failed to address their concerns and aspirations. The insecurities of the middle- and lower-middle-class Maharashtrians, who constituted the base of the Shiv Sena along with the lumpen proletariat, hardened to a point where they felt marginalised with no hope of ever catching up with “outsiders”: south Indians, Marwaris and Gujaratis, to begin with, and later Muslims and Biharis. The “outsiders”, they felt, denied them jobs, bought over their properties and forced them to relocate in distant suburbs, engaged in criminal activities, carved a political space for themselves at their expense, disdained their language and culture and, overall, reduced them to the status of second-class citizens on their home turf.

The neo-converts to identity politics went on to assert that throughout his public life Thackeray exploited these insecurities with such consummate skill that an average Maharashtrian readily looked the other way when he promoted his political agenda with a brazen, often callous, disregard for constitutional niceties. They knew that the Sena patriarch’s single obsession was to instil a sense of pride in the Marathi manoos, to seek his social and economic advancement and to give him the confidence to face the dreaded “outsiders” with courage and fortitude.

It is these virtues that Thackeray’s once-strident critics extolled as they witnessed the scenes at Shivaji Park. The thought did not cross their minds that the grouses of the Maharashtrians had little to do with the malignant “outsiders”. If few of them were at the commanding heights of trade and commerce, the all-India civil services, the English media, Bollywood, PSUs, the armed forces, the academic world or even the cultural one at the pan-India level, the reasons had to be sought in their own character and attitude and in the neglect of quality education in the state.

The neo-converts couldn’t summon the nerve to admit that Maharashtrians lacked—or had failed to exhibit—the entrepreneurial skills of the Gujaratis, Marwaris, Kutchis, Jains, Sindhis and Parsis; that they didn’t venture out of their towns and cities to earn a livelihood in distant states as south Indians, Punjabis, north Indian Hindus and Muslims and the bhadralok Bengalis did with gusto; that their innately cautious, understated nature did not allow them to engage in the highly competitive market of arts and ideas.

The neo-converts to identity politics also chose to ignore two other factors. Few, if any, thought it fit to point to the terrible cost Maharashtra had to pay for Thackeray’s brand of politics: a lethal mix of regional chauvinism, communalism and rank opportunism. Its victims weren’t heard in TV studio discussions or in the columns of newspapers. Nor was another, younger breed of Maharashtrians, who are carving a niche for themselves in just about every field, ranging from food and fashion to scholarship, business, media and the arts. They don’t suffer from a sense of victimhood. It is therefore a matter of time before the newly minted admirers of Bal Thackeray—most of them “progressives”—are forced to eat their words.

That time may indeed have come much sooner than any of them would have anticipated. Even as the mammoth crowd had begun to disperse from Shivaji Park, a group of Shiv Sainiks flexed their muscles in Palghar. They forced a 21-year old woman, Shaheen Dhada, to tender an apology for a comment she had posted on her Facebook page. Her crime? She had raised questions about how and why Mumbai had shut down in the wake of Thackeray’s death—without naming him once. This perfectly innocuous comment had riled the Sainiks for, in their eyes, Shaheen, like her friend, Rini Srinivasan, who had endorsed the comment, had insulted their leader. After some reluctance, Shaheen did post an apology on her Facebook page, but that brought her no respite.
The Sainiks vandalised a hospital run by her uncle and roughed up staff and patients alike. Late that night, the police, instead of hunting for the vandals, took the two young women in custody and next morning pressed charges against them for “outraging religious feelings”. The charges were subsequently whittled down and the women were released on bail. Such was the nation-wide outcry against the conduct of both, the Sainiks and the police, that the state government was compelled to order an inquiry.

But their reputation was in tatters: the former, because they had demonstrated how they proposed to uphold the legacy of Thackeray; and the latter, for making it obvious that, faced with the wrath of the Sainiks, their spine was akin to the spine of an eel. They had shown this propensity to kowtow to the Sena time and again in the past. Not once did they seriously press charges against Thackeray for his inflammatory speeches against “Madrasis”, Muslims, Biharis and against artists, writers, film stars and journalists who had questioned his policies and tactics. Will the recent adherents of the Shiv Sena patriarch’s brand of identity politics now run for cover? This is far from certain. No long-time practitioner of a faith—religious or secular—can hope to match the zeal of a neo-convert to sap the foundations of the republic.

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Ashis Nandy on Thackeray - 'He may have believed in nothing'

It is not my job to pay tributes to dead politicians, nor is it to do a hatchet job on them. I have learnt to look at human beings without being terribly judgemental, since I still retain something of my clinical training. Therefore, I shall look at Bal Thackeray from a distance. He was a product of a period of Indian politics during which his kind thrived. It was the time when leaders like Datta Samant emerged but, unlike him, Thackeray’s instinct for survival was stronger and he negotiated the world of Indian politics with greater skill despite his—and this is a gross understatement—many angularities.




Actually, Thackeray believed in nothing. Many people think he believed in Hindutva, something that he exploited very successfully to further his career, but it perhaps did not mean anything at all to him. He spewed hatred against Hindus liberally—and frequently. When they were not the south Indians, they were the Gujaratis and the Marwaris and, later in his life, the migrants from UP and Bihar. It would be wrong to presume that Balasaheb spoke for the Hindus; he only spoke up for those who supported him. Chameleon-like, he changed colours and always looked ready for different occasions. It is being said that he cemented Marathi identity, but even that is doubtful. Marathi identity was something already there; it did not have to be reinforced by Thackeray. Balasaheb only took advantage of its existence and rode its crest to political power.



The glowing tributes that have poured in for Thackeray are not easy to explain at short notice. We shall have to wait to assess their resilience. Indians avoid speaking ill of the dead. A careful enumeration might reveal some day that Thackeray’s victims among the Marathi people, for whom he reportedly toiled all his life, were more numerous than Ajmal Kasab’s (whose hanging has prompted not lamentation, but jubilation). It is probable that Thackeray’s legacy of violence has been overlooked as most of his victims have come from the bottom strata of society, whose deaths do not make much of a difference to a media-exposed public.



After saying all this, I must hasten to add that there is in Thackeray another trait that may explain the eulogies he has received from various quarters. One can accuse him of having run a criminal enterprise, but the political culture of it did not seem criminal because there was an element of juvenile delinquency in it. The use of the term juvenile is deliberate; there was something innocent about his project, something that reminded one of the playfulness of a teenager. What would have otherwise looked like a criminal enterprise ended up looking like the forgiveable naughtiness of a teenager. For many, he was always playing a game, he made it clear to his galaxy of friends and followers, in Mario Puzo style.



In him, there was a little bit of playacting. Not surprisingly, his circle of friends included people from different religious, educational and linguistic backgrounds. Not only that, they even included those who opposed every canon of the different ideologies he has espoused in his entire political life. How else can one explain the friendship between R.K. Laxman, a classical liberal (and a south Indian!), and Thackeray? He reportedly even called him up days before he died just so that he could hear his voice once. Their relationship was described as ‘apolitical’, and it endorses what I said.



This is why I say he believed in nothing. There was something iconoclastic about him. He cared two hoots for ideologies. He saw through the hypocrisy of ideologies that political leaders employ on the national scene. For him, politics was just a game and he beat others at it. He didn’t even take himself as seriously as many would like to believe. People who knew him reasonably well probably suspected in their hearts that he never believed in any of what he said publicly. I think their tributes discounted the element of violence, given that there was something juvenile about his political enterprise. They would rather remember it as something slightly naughty.



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