Saturday, Sep 18, 2021

Bal Thackeray (1926-2012)

Bal Thackeray (1926-2012)
Bal Thackeray (1926-2012)

In a comprehensive article in the April-June 2002 issue of The Marxist, Ashok Dhawale wrote

As is only too well-known, it was the ruling Congress party that nurtured and supported the SS [Shiv Sena] for over two decades from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. In the early phase, this support was given to break the Communist hold over the trade union movement in Mumbai; in the later phase, it was to settle factional scores within the Congress itself. At the same time, it is also true that, with the sole exception of the Communists, all other opposition parties in the state have also collaborated with the SS at various times, their leaders sharing the platform with the SS supremo and some of them even going to the extent of striking electoral alliances with the SS in local elections.

The SS has always been under the authoritarian grip of its demagogic supremo Bal Thackeray, who has never disguised his contempt for democracy and adulation of dictatorship. His servile support to the Emergency, although couched in these ideological terms, actually had the much more banal motive of somehow staying out of jail, an experience that he is known to dread. Thackeray has publicly glorified the likes of Adolf Hitler and Nathuram Godse, and this has given immense vicarious pleasure to the dominant hardcore elements of the Sangh Parivar...

This first rally of the SS ended in a manner that accurately foretold the shape of things to coma. After inflammatory speeches by Thackeray and others, the dispersing mob savagely attacked shops and restaurants owned by South Indians, looted them and set them on fire. And as was to happen on innumerable later occasions, the police did not lift a finger against these hoodlums! This was obviously under special instructions from Congress chief minister Vasantrao Naik and home minister Balasaheb Desai, from both of whom Bal Thackeray and his hordes were to enjoy full protection for the next ten years! Twenty years later, in the mid-eighties, it was another Congress chief minister of the same name, Vasantdada Patil, who was to take the moribund Shiv Sena under his wing, help it to regain control over the Mumbai municipal corporation, and enable it to spread its communal tentacles all over Maharashtra...

The SS inaugurated its new communal drive with the ghastly communal riots in Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Thane and Mumbai that were unleashed in May 1984. The provocation for the riots was a public speech by Thackeray wherein he made derogatory remarks against the Prophet, Mohammed Paigambar. These remarks were printed in exaggerated form by some Urdu papers. As a reaction to this, in far-off Parbhani in the Marathwada region, a Congress MLA, A.R. Khan organised a large protest action in which Thackeray's photo was garlanded with shoes. This ignited the fuse which led the SS to unleash massive riots in which at least 258 people were killed, thousands injured and property worth crores destroyed. The riots were replete with terrible instances of cruelty, the most heinous being the Ansari Baug massacre at Bhiwandi.

It has been clearly established that the main culprit in these riots was the SS, aided by various RSS outfits on the one hand and by the Jamaat-e-Islami on the other. The other major culprit was the Congress(I) state government which was then headed by Vasantdada Patil. While the build-up to these riots, consisting of rabid communal propaganda and even collection of weapons, was going on openly for two months in Mumbai and Bhiwandi, the government did absolutely nothing. The attitude of the police not only reflected this complete apathy, but it also had additional communal bias. Even after the riots, no action was ever taken against Thackeray or any of the other culprits.

Vir Sanghvi on his blog: Personal charisma, astuteness and a sense of timing accounted for Thackeray’s longevity

His early sponsor was the Congress Chief Minister VP Naik who wanted the Shiv Sena to counter the communist trade unions that were taking over in Bombay’s industrial belt. Naik and other Congress bosses also used the Sena to attack the campaign of VK Krishna Menon, who was opposing the Congress in North Bombay in the 1967 General Election...

... In 1975/6, during the Emergency, Thackeray’s press was shut down and many Sainiks arrested. But when the Emergency was lifted, Thackeray blamed his mistreatment on the then Chief Minister S B Chavan and continued to venerate Indira Gandhi, even organising a bandh when the Janata government arrested her...

...Through his friendship with Pramod Mahajan, he linked up with the BJP and in 1992/3, Shiv Sena workers took an active part in communal riots. Thackeray was so proud of his role in those massacres that when Mani Ratnam’s Bombay was released, his primary objection to the film was that a character patterned on Thackeray expressed regret. (“Why should I regret?”he thundered).

Gyan Prakash, in the Mint: The original angry young man

South Indians, or “Madrasis” as Thackeray referred to them, were his first targets. According to him, the immigrants from southern India had monopolized white-collar employment in the city, robbing the “sons of the soil” of their rightful due. This was not true, but he made fun of their dress by calling them lungiwalas, and mocked their languages by calling them yandugundu. When the Sena supporters attacked South Indian restaurants, he rewarded them with praise.

If the South Indians were aliens, so were the communists... His supporters regularly clashed with the communists in mill districts. These attacks finally claimed the life of Krishna Desai, a CPI member of the legislative assembly. An immensely popular trade union leader and a force in the mill districts, Desai was murdered in June 1970 by Shiv Sena members and supporters. The communists never recovered from Desai’s loss.

No self-respecting, right-wing populist movement in India can succeed without targeting the Muslims as alien to the nation. Accordingly, Thackeray spiked nativism with an anti-Muslim, Hindu nationalism. In 1969, he delivered an inflammatory speech, calling Muslims anti-national and referred to Bhiwandi as a second Pakistan. When Bhiwandi burned for three days during communal violence in May 1970, the role of Thackeray’s vitriolic rhetoric and the Sena’s provocative actions was clear.

The PTI, in a despatch from Pune on May 17, 1991, which was carried in all the national dailies, quoted Thackeray as saying in the election rally:

"We are proud of Nathuram, he saved the country from a second partition. Nathuram was not a hired assassin. He was genuinely infuriated by Mahatma Gandhi's betrayal of the nation. Gandhi had said that he would lay down his life before allowing the division of the country. But ultimately he did nothing to stop the partition". These odious remarks of Thackeray were also published in the SS daily "Saamnaa" itself.

Bal Thackeray's role in the Bombay riots of 1993 is well-documented by Justice Srikrishna report:

From 8th January 1993 at least there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders of the Shiv Sena from the level of Shakha Pramukh to the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray who, like a veteran General, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims. The communal violence and rioting triggered off by the Shiv Sena was hijacked by local criminal elements who saw in it an opportunity to make quick gains. By the time the Shiv Sena realized that enough had been done by way of "retaliation", the violence and rioting was beyond the control of its leaders who had to issue an appeal to put an end to it...

Turning to the events of January 1993, the Commission’s view is that though several incidents of violence took place during the period from 15th December 1992 to 5th January 1993, large–scale rioting and violence was commenced from 6th January 1993 by the Hindus brought to fever pitch by communally inciting propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organizations and writings in newspapers like Saamna and Navaakal. It was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writings and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray. The attitude of Shiv Sena as reflected in the Time magazine interview given by Bal Thackeray and its doctrine of ‘retaliation’, as expounded by Shri Sarpotdar and Shri Manohar Joshi, together with the thinking of Shiv Sainiks that ‘Shiv Sena’s terror was the true guarantee of the safety of citizens’, were responsible for the vigilantism of Shiv Sainiks. Because some criminal Muslims killed innocent Hindus in one corner of the city, the Shiv Sainiks ‘retaliated’ against several innocent Muslims in other corners of the city.

Meena Menon in the Hindu: Leader who brought ethnic politics to Mumbai melting pot 

Apart from taking up the cause of Marathi-speaking youth, the Sena constituted itself as a self-appointed culture police later in its history and targeted Valentine’s Day celebrations, Pakistani artists and writers, among others. However, in a much-publicised event, pop icon Michael Jackson did a concert to raise funds for the Shiv Udyog Sena in 1996 and visited the Thackeray residence. He even used the toilet there — much to the family’s delight.

Given the Sena’s political clout and muscle, Bal Thackeray found that Bollywood was not exempt from his charms or uses. He afforded protection, friendship and support to individuals and groups when needed and there was hardly any film personality, big or small, who did not pay obeisance to him at his residence at crucial moments in their career. One exception was the Communist actor A.K. Hangal. In 1999, Thackeray’s bonhomie with Dilip Kumar ended when he asked the legendary actor to return Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Nishan e Imtiaz, following the Kargil war, and Kumar refused. Congress MP Sunil Dutt had to approach Thackeray to get Sainiks to back off from disrupting the screenings of his son Sanjay’s film Khalnayak. Thackeray softened his stand and Sanjay, then accused under the provisions of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in relation to the March 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, managed to get bail in the Supreme Court after 16 months in jail...

The growth of the Sena could not have been possible without the tacit support of the Congress, its ally for some years. Chief Ministers Vasantrao Naik and Vasantdada Patil allowed the Sena to run amok to derive political advantage. Both had good relations with the Sena and used it as a tool to scotch the growth of the trade union movement in the city...

Later, Thackeray supported the Emergency and Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay in a bid to ensure that he would not be jailed. His support for the Congress continued at various times, with the party breaking ranks with the National Democratic Alliance and backing Pratibha Patil for President. In 2012, Pranab Mukherjee visited Thackeray to seek his support — which was given with alacrity.

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