Sunday, November 18, 2012

Obituary: Bal Thackray

It can be said with impunity that the greatest Maratha after Shivaji who upheld the Marathi pride was Balasaheb Thackray. If people lived by rule book so did he, only the rules were his own and the rule book was written by him. Balasaheb started his career as a cartoonist and was acclaimed for his witty display of uncanny humor through his cartoons. In 1960's he started his own journal Marmik that turned to be his entry point into the political arena. Then a major turning point came when his articles germinated the perduring idea of insider-outsider. It had been only thirteen years when modern India came out of external invasion to foray into the penumbra of internal division. Through his publication he planted weeds in the caste jungle of India targeting Gujaratis, Marwaris & South Indians for taking up supposedly local Marathi jobs and began to fertilize those weeds. He announced that people should boycott Hindi movies produced by south Indians till the protest against Hindi movies in Tamil Nadu continues. His jibes on south Indians were like a poison edged shard;the infamous slogan at one of his rallies -“Bajao Pungi, Hatao Lungi” (Remove South Indians by kicking them). This insider-outsider debate became the totem pole of his political ideologue which culminated in launching his own political party , Shiv Sena, infront of a massive crowd on Dussehra at Shivaji Park in 1966.

This fearless Maratha coined the term Marathi Manoos and soon gravitated huge Marathi support in Mumbai. The ratiocination behind the term being, the soil belongs to son-of-soils. His biggest strength was his unadulterated love for Marathi Manoos. Listening to his nuncupative speeches firing joule, thousands of Shiv Sainiks would rally behind him. His psychic oratory was all evident: his phrases offered hope and acted as a security blanket against the bitter winds of joblessness to the locals. As political oratory opens door to power, Shiv Sainiks wrested the control of several trade unions from the Communist Party of India across Mumbai. By 1980’s he consolidated his position by winning Bombay Municipal elections.

During the early 90’s, Balasaheb sensed where the political wind was blowing and being an astute politician he quickly transformed himself and became the apostle of Ram Janambhoomi movement along with the BJP. With the demolition of Babri Masjid the fortune for BJP changed and sailing on country’s pro Hindutva current, Balasaheb went on a image makeover and turned himself into a staunch Hindu. His new target were Muslims. The role of Shiv Sena in 1992-93 Mumbai riots gave him the tag of Hindu Hriday Samrat. He was non hypocritical and never minced his words in accepting the role of Shiv Sainiks in the riots. He even criticised BJP for shying away from owning up the responsibility for Babri Masjid demolition. He went one step ahead and said with chutzpah "If nobody was involved then my Sainiks were involved in the demolition of Babri. Do whatever you can. Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai(Be proud to be a Hindu)"

He soon started building Shiv Sena citadels all across Maharastra. His citadels were sprouting in rural Maharashtra and his travails from race to power came up when Sena-BJP alliance swept the 1995 Maharastra Assembly polls. The oath ceremony of the new government was not conducted in Raj Bhavan as per the custom. It was held at Shivaji Park in presence of a mammoth gathering. The photo op moment was when Manohar Joshi, the sworn-in Chief Minister, first bowed to touch Balasaheb’s feet and then took the oath.

Balasaheb had become a cult personality who transformed Maharastra politics by becoming the anodyne master of Marathis Manoos. He openly smoked pipe, drank beer and wore his trademark dark glasses. He became the colossal figure who without holding any public office was dominant and powerful. The fact of the matter was he had people’s support and that made him matter of fact. Every year Shiv Sainiks would line up for his infamous annual Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park and drink fearlessness from his disposition.

Whenever Balasaheb drew the line in Mumbai, he didn't doodle on the sand. He was straightforward and balked every law which he never believed. Whenever he roared, Mumbai halted and nobody had the audacity to touch him...not even the government. Bal Thackray ruled Mumbai. It is believed that Sunil Dutt, the then Congress MP, pleaded before Balasaheb for the release of his son Sanjay Dutt, found guilty of possessing arms & ammunition, even though Congress was in power during 1992-93. The most interesting story is when in 1995 the then chairperson of Enron International, Rebecca Mark, visited Balasaheb at his residence, "Matoshree", to overcome Sena’s opposition to the Enron project in the state. Another instance of his larger than life personality was when Michael Jackson went to "Matoshree" to get clearance for his sole concert in India.

Balasaheb’s view on India’s relationship with Pakistan is well known. He was vehemently against any engagement with Pakistan: be it diplomatic ties or sports. On one encounter the Shiv Sainiks dug up Ferozeshah Kotla pitch in Delhi before the start of the test match between India & Pakistan. We may not agree with his style of politics but he was a true nationalist. He was a rare combination of religious pride layered with multiple coating of patriotism. He launched an Ambulance Service for Mumbai and today Shiv Sena has fleets of Ambulance plying on the roads. As the story goes, after Amitabh Bachchan got severely injured while shooting for his film Coolie in Bangalore, he was brought to Mumbai to get admitted in Breach Candy Hospital. Balasaheb asked the party workers to send an ambulance to carry Bachchan to the hospital. It was the first ambulance of the party. Renowned author and nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul said Shiv Sena is the only party which cared about the health and hygiene of the city's poorest.

But as age took over him the elan that he possessed slowly started waning. First, the Sena-BJP combo lost the 1999 assembly election and never recovered followed by the big stalwarts of the party: Sanjay Nirupam, Chaghan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane quit Shiv Sena and joined Congress. The biggest jolt of his life came when his nephew, Raj Thackray, floated his own party Maharastra Navnirman Sena eating into the Sena-BJP vote bank. Before he kicked the bucket, his last solace was 2012 Mumbai Civic poll where Sena-BJP combo splendidly won. Today he made the city sleep which never slept.

To quote Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat: - Full of life, Balasaheb Thackeray was an epitome of courage & valour

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