The death of Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray has now become one of the most talked-about chapters in the history of 21st century India. Balasaheb, I believe was not a personality but a phenomena in himself. Not every day you see such greats on whose call (mind you, I’ve used the word “call”, paid-media uses “dictate”) multitude go into a frenzy. In a city like Mumbai which is as unrelenting as a nuclear chain reaction was rendered to an astounding halt by death of the patriarch of the Thackeray family. The occurrence itself enlightens the fact that persona of Balasaheb was mightier than the nuclear power too. In my post ahead, I elaborate the times of Mumbai with Balasaheb’s advent and how Balasaheb emerged as the Godfather of the financial capital of India.
It was on 1st May, 1960 that two separate states – Gujarat and Maharashtra were formed. The constitution makers didn’t address the linguistic sentiments of the Indian heart and hence the public of these states faced untoward repercussions. Post the formation of Maharashtra, the people there still didn’t enjoy the formation of state. It was just Congress then in Indian Politics. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had passed away in 1964 and there was no responsible successor to him for at least 5 years then. Indira Gandhi did take over the reins of Congress in her hands in 1965 but she was yet to make a place in people’s heart and revive congress from the terrible pandemonium it was in. Given these circumstances, it is needless to cite that Maharashtra was under poor governance then.
On the other hand, Maharashtrians and in particularly Mumbaikars faced dire crises of jobs. There were qualified youths who were famished of government jobs as they were taken by South Indians who had encroached into the state and its resources. Maharashtra was losing its cultural identity. Marathi cinema, literature and food seemed to be escaping from a Maharashtrian layman’s surrounding. The Maharashtrians and the Mumbaikars were conscious about it and grieved too. But they needed a person who could voice their sentiments. And there came Balasaheb! Balasaheb who initially started his career as a political cartoonist now made cartoon voicing the woes of Marathi Maanoos. And this is what the public wanted then. They wanted somebody who could help them get their right over the jobs in Maharashtra. Balasaheb did that! In his initial speeches at Shivaji Park he told that the people of Maharashtra would have to fight if they wanted jobs. And the public joined the movement. Balasaheb’s strength was the common man. Today when people talk of him as a fascist or a dictator, they forget he had no army in true sense. The only power he had was the common man. He never had any financial aid to hire goons like the big political parties do today. It was just the laymen. They were laymen who marched to the government buildings for vandalism. They were laymen who would go to shut the city when Balasaheb called for a bandh.
He knew what a layman wanted. He knew that the layman then wanted jobs. He knew the layman then wanted to preserve the cultural identity of Maharashtra. And he assured the people for the same. And that is why Balasaheb become a true “public” figure. He “acquired” the trust of the Marathi Maanoos and then reigned over Maharashtra without any constitutional powers. He required no emblems with tigers, for he himself was a tiger in true sense and his words were the most supreme laws in Maharashtra then…
Balasaheb then proceeded towards the formation and strengthening of the Shiv Sena. It was built by him single-handedly brick-by-brick. In his first public address at Shivaji Park, there were no posters, banners or any material spreading the word. It was just the charisma of Balasaheb due to which the masses flocked in huge numbers at Shivaji Park. The Indian politics which was full of sophistry delivering, diplomatic and hypocritical personalities then (just like it is right now too!) had now a face as Balasaheb who was straightforward, brazen and blatant in what he said regardless its political correctness. This probably was one of the reasons which compounded to Balasaheb’s rule over the city. His pumping oratory would majestically compel the youths to join him and make them feel like true warriors of the Maratha land. I can say that because, I have spent several nights in this reading vacation watching videos of Balasaheb’s speech right from early 80’s till 2010 and trust me they’re magnetic.
Shiv Sena was now a big stakeholder in Maharashtra politics. It was almost like Shiv Sena was another category of government in Maharashtra other from the constitutional one with its ruling capital as Mumbai. It would not be an overstatement to say that not even a leaf could move in Mumbai without Balasaheb’s nod. Be it film stars, industrialists, foreign diplomats or politicians from other parties – everybody would stop at a new shrine called ‘Matoshree’ for the blessings of new deity in Maharashtra named Balasaheb. It was definitely not out of fear, but it was out of faith and reverence. Faith because they knew, it is definitely not the government or the constitutional law but this man who will stand beside me at the twelfth hour. And reverence because, he just didn’t SPEAK, he DID for everybody. Till a month before he passed away Balasaheb used to meet people every day post 12 noon and address their grievances. The public has so much faith in this real “chosen” leader of the people and by the people that they would knock the doors of Matoshree rather than turning to the doors of constitutional law. And the layman had always preferred Balasaheb in power and that has been the reason why Shiv Sena has been winning the Bombay Municipal Corporation elections since the time it was formed. And all this turned Balasaheb into a ‘larger than life’ figure.
Balasaheb is often stamped as a figure who exercised ‘divisive’ politics by the media. The fact is totally contradicting. It was everybody else other than Balasaheb who played divisive politics. It was BJP who started the Hindutva mania. You can find speeches by senior BJP leaders like Advani during the Ayodhya Mandir times where he has taken over the minority in India. It is Congress always who tries to divide the public instigating them in the lollipop of religion based reservation. Agreed that Balasaheb too took over targets like the South-Indians, the Muslims and then the Biharis and UP’ites. But let us contemplate over the stand which Balasaheb took. Taking the latest example – he has disliked the Biharis and UP’ites in Mumbai. Article 19 (1) (e) of the constitution states: “All citizens shall have the right — to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India.” Balasaheb never refuted this fact stated in the constitution. No doubt, the Biharis and UP’ites had the right to settle in any part of India. But what happened in Mumbai has been just astonishing. The famished and starved population in Bihar, UP and Chhattisgarh comes to Mumbai. They stay down and use up the resources of the state. This is still to an extent acceptable. But there’s an indirect attempt to destroy the cultural identity of Maharashtra. I remember we had a lesson in Hindi in 8th or 9th standard titled “Varn Badha” on Gandhiji in which Gandhiji coins the phrase “Jaisa Desh Waise Bhes” (Adopt the mannerisms of the land on which you live). But what happened in Mumbai? “Bhau” changed to “Bhaiya”, Sev Usal changed to “Sev Puri and Bhel Puri”, Shivaji Jayanti started losing charm compared to “Chhatth Puja” and “Bhojpuri” cinema had more banners than “Marathi” cinema. And this entire scenario where? On a land which had a Maharashtrian majority! The constitution has entitled citizen to settle at a place but not to destroy the cultural identity of the place, not to exhaust the resources of the place. And this is what Balasaheb stood for. As a 3rd person you might feel like “talking as an Indian” but for a minute put your feet in the shoes of a Marathi Maanoos.
Assuming that most of the Gujaratis are reading this, this thing is already happening in Gujarat also. Go out to eat Gujarati thali at any popular place, what items you have in a “Gujarati” thaali. Mini Uttapam, Mini Dosa, Daal-baati – Gujarati items? Go to non-Gujarati shops like Gwalia, no Gujarati sweets like Penda available. But go to famous Gujju shops like Shreeji Dairy; you get Mathura ka Pedha, Rajasthani Ghewar, Bengali sweets along with Gujarati Penda. At times you wonder if you’re living in Gujarat. Gujarati cinema is probably going through its weakest phase, but you hear rickshawwalas playing “Jiyo ho bihar ka lala”. Someday soon you will hear garba being played on “Main to ayi hoon UP Bihar lootne”. Nobody cares of Manhar Udhas’ Gujarati gazals, but people don’t fail to hear Mehendi Hasan’s and Ghulam Ali’s Gazals. These might appear small things, but they’re bound to take a big shape in future. Unfortunately Gujarat doesn’t have a Balasaheb Thackeray and I guess will never have one. Gujjus are just interested in minting money though be it at the cost of losing the ‘Gujarati Asmita’.
Returning to my point, what crime did Balasaheb commit when he voiced the grievances of a Marathi Maanoos? The fact has been Balasaheb has always stood up and spoke for public opinion. In fact I believe Balasaheb was more democratic than then Sovereign and Republic of India. Balasaheb had also noted his strong opposition against our lame and tamed ties with Pakistan. A country with an establishment which has been so brutal to India needed to be dealt strictly. This is what an Indian believed and this is what Balasaheb said. Indian government (to be specific Congress Govt.) has believed in writing “love letters” to Pakistan and US when terror struck the country. Was it wrong to oppose this brainlessness of Indian government?
It was just a media-trend to first corner Balasaheb alone and then call him a fascist, communist, linguistic fanatic and whatever. But it didn’t hamper the real Sarkar. The tiger did mellow down with time, but never got silent, not even after his death. The proof is the arrest of two girls for writing against Balasaheb (That’s a debatable issue in its own). And this will continue to happen. Balasaheb will continue to stand for what the Marathi Maanoos wants! Media stamped Balasaheb as a political demagogue who left behind legacy of divisive and identity politics. I believe Balasaheb in first place hasn’t left behind anything for he will still be with and in Mumbai for years to come. And secondly, if Balasaheb has left some legacy, then it is the fearless defense for common-man and straightforwardness and brazen articulation in Indian politics. The plethora of tributes Saheb got on his demise and the myriad crowd that followed the corpse till the pyre was a witness that the public needs more of Balasaheb! Country like India needs a ruler who can deal things with an iron hand and Balasaheb definitely was one!
Balasaheb was a phenomenon too intricate to analyze. I chose not to do it and just jot down the accolades. Others might not. But I don’t care. In Balasaheb’s words, “What I’ve to say, I will say. My words are like a bullet. They will fire and penetrate the target. I don’t regret for it”. Ending the blog-post by quoting Rajdeep Surdesai’s words – “Love him or hate him but you can’t ignore him”.