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.
Ashis Nandy’s clinical analysis of Balasaheb as the juvenile prankster deserves credit for gall and guile (Prance of the Trickster). Being an innocent juvenile, if death and destruction ensue as a consequence, surely he cannot be held responsible for it.
Nalini Nayak, on e-mail
Pritish Nandy was once an SS member in the RS...hope Ashis remembers it.
The Shiv Sena of Bal Thackeray (King Toon, Dec 3) was born on the backs of the demonised ‘Madrasis’ of Bombay. When Krishna Menon staked a third chance to contest from North Bombay constituency, Thackeray bared his fangs. Menon was denied the Congress ticket—an early concession to parochialism.
Rajan Narayan, Hyderabad
Ashis Nandy says Thackeray “never believed in any of what he said publicly”. Isn’t the same trait personified by another good public speaker, A.B. Vajpayee, who always left the door ajar to retract anything he might have said in public?
Anand Misra, on e-mail
I disagree with Ashis Nandy that Thackeray was cynical, didn’t believe even in his own theories, and had an element of innocent naughtiness about him (Prance of the Trickster). The man was a monster, whose brand of politics, along with the BJP’s own Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, sowed the seeds of religious and communal violence in India. That’s why Markandeya Katju refused to pay him any tribute.
Md Aftab Alam, Malappuram, Kerala
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Pritish Nandy was once SS member of Rajya Sabha......Hope Ashish Remembers about his own brother!
I am amazed that you have started to think! :)
Dont be surprised, that as loot raj achieves greater depths of lawlessness, there are bound to be a big demand for bouncers like Thackeray.
The Tatas and Ambanis / cinema, may never agree with him ideologically, but in a state where law and order is broken, people like Thackeray are 'insurance investment'. When the policeman becomes thug, the thug becomes policeman - and the divide vanishes.
In return for protection, these big businesses / politicians part with support / money - another clear sign of the law and order break down in the state.
Thackeray was BOTH - cause and effect of the break down of law and order.
Typical BS by bongs against maharashtrians, Gujaratis and others from western India. Who cares what Ashis Nandi says.
Male Unblocked .... "As someone said, he was the well-paid bouncer at the politician-big business party."
Good whoever said this didn't put it on Facebook. From the 2-3 days of paens of greatness sung and euologies spoken/written on national channels and newspapers, I started to wonder "what is our definition of leader?", "what is our definition of a great leader?", "what is our definition of greatness?", "Are bullies and leaders the same thing?".
No wonder, as a culture and nation, our "leadership deficit" is monumental. It appears we can only swing between "Mahatmas" and "Bullies" - only the extremes - no middle.
BTW, Male Unblocked, no female gender to blame in this case - how come :-) Kuch tho angle hona chahiye.
>> Article 370 that makes Kashmir state special and prevents outsiders from settling there
Such comments get posted from time to time. They are factually incorrect. Article 370 does not prohibit outsiders from settling in Kashmir. It prohibits them from buying property there.
This itself is horrible, but it's good to be precise. Moreover, it is not equivalent to Thackeray's despicable actions and ideology targeting outsiders trying to make a living in Bombay (I still use Madras, Calcutta, CP etc.). Moreover, even if it were, that wouldn't justify his ideology. Two wrongs don't make a right.
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