It's not hard to reason this one but you migh...
If you grew up in Bombay in the 90s, you knew the one man who ruled the city and did so brazenly. His name was Bal Keshav Thackeray. The man who many feared and some stood up to, Thackeray was an enigma and a magnet for his followers.
Thackeray died on Saturday after a prolonged illness but his hold on the city was ever-present. Shops and establishments shut, events postponed or cancelled, transport in a disarray and an unsaid panic among those returning home were common signs on the road. Fatigued policemen, who have been guarding the city and Matoshree, Thackeray’s fortress at suburban Bombay will spend many frustrated days yet to ensure calm. Mantralaya will function over time and the CM may not get to read his favourite books past midnight.
What is it about Thackeray then that he commands such a following? Many people call him one of the greatest orators of this generation and say this helped him cement his place in his votebank. It is noteworthy that Thackeray, who did not even pass college, could hold sway over an entire populace. But his speeches, one of which I saw at his famous hunting ground at Shivaji Park in Dadar, were not the stirring and inspirational ones used by someone like Barack Obama. In fact, he used the language of the streets, picked on issues without even debating the merits of his argument and jumped from one topic from the other as if he were running a marathon with his words. The assembled public, many of who had trudged from all parts of the state, identified with their language more than the Thackeray’s ideals.
Thackeray is also claimed to have championed the cause of the Marathi manoos. But this was done at the expense of other communities, often for his own bebefit. Sometimes, as the Srikrishna committee report noted, he also incited people against another community. It is shameful that this man rode roughshod over law and declared himself to be the law if he so chose. Thackeray single-handedly got Sanjay Dutt out of jail in the Bombay bomb blasts case, which in itself were partly instigated by him. The fact that this was allowed in a supposedly democratic and open state is adding further insult to wounds.
After forming his party Shiv Sena with the roaring tiger as its symbol, Thackeray went into overdrive to find trouble in the urban jungle. He said he was not interested in politics but jumped when the opportunity arose. He gave birth to regional politics by openly driving away South Indians by making them the victims of a vicious hate crime simply to prove that Maharashtrians too could be violent if they wanted, like his idol Shivaji Maharaj.
So devoted was Thackeray to the 16th century Maratha warrior that he renamed the most iconic spots in the city after Shivaji and allegedly asked, each word dripping in arrogance, “If a father will not name his son, then who will?” before turning Bombay to Mumbai. No one questioned his stance again and the city accepted the change without even a token protest.
His love for art was so consummate that you would have thought he would appreciate open-mindedness in this field at least. A former illustrator, Thackeray took an immense interest in arts, music and films and yet he was the one who drove out artists like M F Husain out of the country permanently. So intolerant was he of anything that he perceived to be anti-Hindu that movies like Fire were never given a chance to be screened in Mumbai. His campaign against Valentine’s Day for being a Western import to Indian culture is well known too. And yet, he welcomed someone as controversial as Michael Jackson to his house before the King of Pop’s concert in the city in 1996.
His nationalism (jingoism?), extended to cricket as well. His cadres notoriously remembered for digging up the Ferozeshah Kotla pitch in Delhi before a match against Pakistan in 1999. The party even declared that snakes would be let loose on the ground if the match went ahead. Thackeray constantly chided the BCCI for consorting with the enemy. He earned token points from fans but his intolerance soon disgruntled the common man.
When he finally came to power in Maharashtra, he ran the government by using Manohar Joshi as his remote control rather than making him work as the Chief Minister of the state. Apart from building a few flyovers, nothing much was achieved in Mumbai. The BMC, run by Shiv Sena, has repeatedly made a mess of the city and its ineptitude is as common as garbage on the streets.
What, then, does Thackeray’s death achieve? Apart from a tremendous sense of sadness over what could’ve been instead of what was, one must also wonder how Thackeray was allowed to become the icon that he is. Why does the city tremble when something goes wrong with Shiv Sena? How did he rise above the law so many times? What does his ascension tell us about ourselves, and what does it mean for the city now that its most famous Tiger who will roar no more?
Some things, like a well-drawn illustration, are best left to the imagination.
(Views expressed in this article are the author's own.)
you might also like
With Skyfall, director Sam Mendes mixes the old an...
If Bollywood ever went down the 007 agent route, w...