June 06, 2020
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The Usual Senantics

Will the state contain Thackeray and his 'suicide squads'? More Coverage

The Usual Senantics
Atul Loke
The Usual Senantics
"Terrorists should be born among you too. There must be suicide squads, ready to die for a Hindu rashtra. Otherwise it'll be a lost cause. Tomorrow, if we've to take the Muslims head on, I know my Sainiks won't lag behind."
—Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray at the October 15 rally at Mumbai's Shivaji Park.

Every October, on Dussehra day, Bal Thackeray spews venom from a maidan in Dadar, central Mumbai, better known as the city's cricket nursery. So it was last week—the Sena chief was at his rabble-rousing worst before a full house at Shivaji Park as he spoke out against Muslim terrorism and pseudo-secularism even as he justified the post-Godhra riots, his rhetoric hitting a feverish pitch this time. The Congress-led government in Maharashtra found the speech so inflammatory that it directed the police to lodge a case against Thackeray for "promoting communal disharmony", which, under section 153(A) of the Indian Penal Code, is a non-bailable offence. If convicted, the Sena chief could be sentenced to three years imprisonment.

The Shiv Sena is unrepentant and accuses the state government of targeting Thackeray to divert attention from its own failures. Says former chief minister Narayan Rane: "Let's see what they can do. The last time they tried to arrest Balasaheb, the whole city was quaking. The government is punishing patriots and taking no action against the real terrorists and anti-nationals." Adds Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam: "The party will fiercely fight back the case legally and if necessary will come out on the streets."

The BJP is equivocating. While it has been critical of Thackeray's call to form suicide squads, it has described as "dangerous" the Maharashtra government's decision to register a case against him. "We believe that Thackeray's statement should not be construed to be against the minority community," said BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. This defence comes despite Thackeray's speech being critical of Prime Minister Vajpayee. He asked the latter to wake up from his "stupor" and even mimicked his speech.

The tenor of Thackeray's speech was more than evident: "Why shouldn't Hindus get angry? Declare this a Hindu rashtra. We don't need anyone's father's permission." He proclaimed his admiration for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who had "protected Hindus" in the state and said that the BJP could hope to win the elections only with Modi at the helm. Casting aspersions on Indian Muslims, he said: "When Christian leader Falwell makes a statement against Islam, there are riots in India but not in Pakistan. Are these Muslims citizens of our country, or are they loyal to Pakistan? If they are loyal to Pakistan, they should go there. Why should we look after them?"

The Maharashtra government says it's serious about prosecuting the Sena chief. Says Thackeray's bete-noire and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal: "When there is so much communal tension in the country, such statements are uncalled for. I've instructed the police to frame a chargesheet as soon as possible." Bhujbal almost had Thackeray arrested two years ago for inflammatory writings in Saamna, during the '92-93 Bombay riots. The Sena chief escaped prosecution when the court declared that the case was too old to be taken up for trial.

Although provocative speeches are Thackeray's hallmark and he has, in the past, even accused NDA ministers of "behaving like eunuchs", many agree he has crossed the limit this time. According to Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy, Thackeray "has given an open call for the subversion of the Constitution. He has tried to incite people to take to terrorism by forming suicide squads". The Left too has condemned him.

In spite of the bluster, Sena leaders privately admit that if there's one man who can take on Thackeray, it's Bhujbal.But if he was serious enough he would have arrested the Sena chief under POTA. Many are sceptical about the case finally ending in prosecution. They point to the Sena's ability to hold Mumbai to ransom and the state government's reputation for vacillation. This is just a first step. It'll take a lot of political will to finally trap the Tiger.

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