An era ends today with the demise of Balasaheb Thackeray; undoubtedly the most influential, popular and controversial figure in anyone’s recent memory in India .
Political acumen came both by inheritance and by profession to him, the former as the son of Keshav “Prabodhankar” Thackeray, and the latter as a cartoonist, which he always has been at heart since the age of twenty. His father famously declared, when Shiv Sena was formed in 1966, that he now dedicates his son to Maharashtra. Balasaheb did more than just live upto the words of his father, who was instrumental in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, (which called for a united Maharashtra inclusive of Mumbai, Konkan, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada regions but exclusive of Gujarat), a dream which was finally realized in 1960.
Starting out initially as a leader who was dedicated to the cause of the Marathi Manoos, he quickly took the Hindu cause to his heart, sadly being the only leader in the political scenario to fearlessly address Hindu causes when India’s politics has made appeasement its raison d’etre (you might be proud of being Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali or Gujarati, but remember, until you don’t establish your identity as a Hindu, you will never be able to live a life of self respect). Another quality of his which made him the rarest of the rare in Indian politics, plagued with hypocrisy and double standards, was his complete lack of political correctness and double speak, and his fearless views which made him both a hero and a villain, depending on whose perspective he was viewed from (“what is in my heart is in my mouth. My words are shot like a bullet and I do not care if truth hurts anyone”).
The popular media and the popular culture and public opinion that spawns from it has painted him in the most satanic colours possible, as some sort of a bloodthirsty psychopath like figure who could speak nothing but hate speeches (The Washington Post had once described him as “the man who rules Bombay the way Al Capone ruled Chicago — through fear and intimidation”). In a world blighted by political correctness and self denial, truth automatically becomes the biggest hate speech.
The so called civilized viewers and adherents of popular media who never lose an opportunity to malign him and swear by the spirit of Mumbai and the freedom it gives to them, forget conveniently that without Balasaheb, Mumbai would neither have spirit nor would it be free. They perhaps do not know that Balasaheb started his journey towards prominence by destroying the power of the Communist trade unions that dominated the mills which were the backbone of the city in the 1960s and 70s, thereby having Mumbai continue as the financial capital of the country instead of becoming another Kolkata.
In the post Babri demolition riots, when the city was at the mercy of jehadi mobs, it was the Shiv Sena and not the police which saved the city from certain massacre, by taking the attack ruthlessly to the attackers themselves. If not for him, Dawood & Co would still have been here dictating terms instead of having to flee to Dubai and Karachi.
It was he who brought India to the world entertainment map when he encouraged Michael Jackson to have a concert in Mumbai in 1996, when an international artists coming to India was unthinkable. During its four-and-a-half-year stint (1995-99), the Shiv Sena government renamed Bombay to Mumbai and started various infrastructural projects like the Krishna Valley Irrigation Project and the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. It also built 56 flyovers in Mumbai and started the slum redevelopment scheme.
Where else would you find a public figure in India who had all the opportunities to come to power and retain it forever, yet preferred to remain out of power because he did not want to compromise his ideals and form third rate alliances in order to come to power; neither did he take part in vote bank politics or encourage discrimination based on caste, both of which he hated. He never resorted to minority appeasement, even at the cost of not winning elections when his party lost power in 1999. The EC banned him for five years for his speeches and editorials in Jan 1993 in Saamna where he urged Hindus to pick up arms to defend themselves (the same commission ignores anti-hindu speeches made by many other political leaders).
A Saamna editorial, ahead of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, said “How does your Shiv Sainik appear as he is marching towards Ayodhya? Like the roaring lion spreading terror, with the gait of an intoxicated elephant, like the assault of a rhino which reduces to powder a rocky mountain, like the manoeuvres of a leopard: our infinite blessings to these Hindu warriors who are marching towards Ayodhya.”
Or after the March 1993 Mumbai bombings which killed 250 people, he openly called for all anti national elements among the Muslims to be thrown out of the country, since the bombings were funded by Muslim expats, and carried out by the Muslims in India. His definition of anti-national Muslims included “those who fired crackers of victory whenever Pakistan defeated India in cricket.”
Or when Kashmiri separatists declared that there would be no more Amarnath yatras, Thackeray shut them up with one sentence, “Then there would be no Hajj through Maharashtra.”
The seculars surely cried for his head when they read this, but they remained silent when lakhs of Kashmiri pundits were forced out of their homeland by Pakistan backed militants. While the rest of the political parties looked away because KPs did not form a vote bank, and the seculars remained silent as Hindu lives had no value, it was this extremist Balasaheb who opened the doors for them by making the government of Maharashtra create quotas for them in all the educational institutes across the state. Seven lakh KPs benefitted from this, something which the bleeding heart media will never highlight in its quest to glorify the Kashmiri separatists.
A few years earlier during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he had declared and ensured that no Congress goon would be able raise a hand on a Sikh in Maharashtra. Today, when he is no more, gurudwaras across Mumbai are open for lodging for people travelling from the length and breadth of the state and country, to attend his funeral.
He never budged from his ideals even at the cost of losing votes. In 1991 Chhagan Bhujbal defected to the join the Congress as he did not agree with Thackeray’s opposition to the Mandal commission and the provision of reservations for the OBCs. With his exit, the Sena lost a chunk of its OBC votes. Any other leader in any other party would have lost no time in backing a populist move like this. But not him.
His vehement opposition to any kind of ties with Pakistan unless it ends cross border terrorism has been legendary, something that made him an infamous figure in Pakistan as well.
He was easily the best orator in the last fifty years, and there was no one like him who could raise the populace to action without being an elected representative.
To those who say that he did not do anything for the people outside Maharashtra, I wish to ask what have the likes of the Gandhi family done for the constituencies of Phulpur, Rae Bareilly and Amethi?
How can a person like him who has fought the caste menace all his life be a bigot, but the numerous politicians who have built their careers on caste identities and caste vote banks be secular?
How can a Shiv Sena that smashes the jehadi underworld be a threat to India, but secular parties that give citizenship to Bangladeshi immigrants, a glory?
The writer did not agree with a lot of his view points but in his opinion; one Balasaheb Thackeray who calls for the destruction of Pakistan during the Kargil war than one hundred other politicians who go across to Pakistan and praise it to gain some brownie points of secularism. An extremist Shiv Sena that always runs to the rescue, and gets involved in volunteer work in case of a terrorist attack and natural disaster, is any day preferable to a secular government that fattens up terrorists and criminals in five star jails, and sucks the blood of the common man.
The roar will never be heard again in Shivaji Park.
Mumbai will take time to come to terms with the fact that the towering personality which was a part of its life for fifty years is no more.
You were certainly a giant among the khadi clad pygmies, sir; a welcome change from the pathetic buffoonery that we have become used to. May your legacy live and inspire.
Jai Hind Jai Maharashtra.
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