THE passing away of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has evoked strong reaction in the English media. The Times of India (November 19) said he got “the nation’s political establishment to pay obeisance to him and, no less significant, generate fear that turned Mumbai and some other urban centres in Maharashtra into ghost cities.” His oratory, said the paper, “oozed vitriol” though his private conduct was nothing “if not warm and charming”. His contribution to the Marathi peoples’ economic and social progess was, at best, derisory” and his “strident Hindutva and anti-Bihari campaigns… left a trail of death, destruction and bitterness in their wake even as they all but snuffed out the cosmopolitan ethos of Mumbai.” “It is this disturbing legacy” the paper added, “that threatens to unleash an unprecedented political churning process in Maharashtra in the weeks and months ahead.”
Deccan Herald (November 19) said Thackeray “was a queer mixture of regional chauvinism, bigotry and nationalist fervour” who used “barbaric violence and intimidation against the ‘outsider’ to gain a political foothold.” His party hooligans’ attack on south Indians was a dark chapter in the history of the city which forced thousands of families to flee….”
The New Indian Express (November 19) said Thackeray held “undisputed sway over the minds of the people of Maharashtra in general” but “the unquestioned adulation” he evoked from his followers “was matched in intensity only by the fear that he created among those who did not fail in line with his views.” The paper described him as “one of the most respected and most feared political leaders of our times”, “a mascot of Marathi pride and Hinduva….”
The Hindu (November 19) said Thackeray used “the language of hate and, when needed, violence” to generate fear and insecurity, pride and solidarity and his legion of followers “raised him to the status of a demigod who could force an entire State to shut down with the mere threat of violence.” Saying that he drew crowds “with his acerbic oratorical skills, the paper referred to the Sir Krishna Commission’s documentation of how “Muslims were systematically killed in riots engineered by Sena leaders.”
The Economic Times (November 20) damned the Shiv Sena’s “politics of violent intimidation, crushing dissent and individual rights aided and abetted by a State machinery that caves in before such mob rule and, in that act of appeasement, colludes and collaborates in attacking democracy.” The paper charged the ruling Congress, backed by local industrialists who found it “expedient to use the Shiv Sena’s muscle power to break communist-led unions” and said “the government has refrained from using the power of the State to check the Sena’s use of organised violence as its principal political tool”. Added the paper: “The power to wreak havoc is also the power to offer patronage. Many took that patronage from different worlds of politics, business and films. The result has been a politics of fear and loathing that has little in common with democracy.”
The Hindu ( November 20) carried a highly enlightening article by Praveen Swamy describing Shiv Sena as “an authentic Indian fascism” which high praise from its readers. Practically every major daily carried several article on the life and times and activities of the Shiv Sena leader, The Economic Times magazine (November 18) excelling. DNA, too, made a substantial contribution to the understanding of the Sena and its leader.
The Times of India was not far behind. One had access in the media to knowledgeable writers like Dileep Padgaonkar, Siddharth Bhatia, Kumar Ketkar and Ambarish Mishra who could claim that they knew Thackeray well. Padgaonkar put it just right when he wrote that “regional chauvinism, communalism, unabashed dadagiri” are the legacy of Thackeray and that little do political parties realise that “when you sow poisonous seeds in the nations’ political fields, as Thackeray, an avowed admirer of Hitler did with such feisty insouciance – you can only reap a toxic harvest.”
Hindustan Times (November 19) thought that for a man who had no political ideology, Thackeray was “a phenomenon”. It said Thackeray managed to thrive “not on how right his policies were, but in how wrong those of others were” and “when an opportunity presented itself, he grabbed it with both hands.” “It is mystifying” said the paper, “why the support of his sainiks did not waver when he chopped and changed so such.” He was perhaps surprised by his own success, the paper added.
The Asian Age (November 18) said Thackeray was “feared by governments, political opponents, capitalists, movie moguls, Bollywood’s best known producers and actors” and “would be remembered as one of the most charismatic figures in public life in India, if dangerously so.” He was, said the paper, “an unusual politician”.
An article in DNA (November 19) said “just like Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the movie Sarkar, Thackeray had a knack of feeling the pulse of the people…. On this he based his politics of hatred and intolerant identities…. If for one section of the population Balasaheb is hero, for another section he is a terrorist… not many people can divide public opinion sporadically.”
The Television channels, of course, went overboard in coverage of the illness of the Shiv Sena leader and of his funeral. Of the people – not many, sadly to say – who had the courage to speak out their minds must be included Rajdeep Sardesai (CNN-IBN) and Shobha De. Praveen Swami’s powerful article in The Hindu ( November 20) warning that the Shiv Sena chief’s Nazi impulses in Indian politics “poses an ever-growing threat to our Republic” is a case in point. His warning needs to be heeded. As he said, “Thackeray’s successes in tapping this generation’s rage will, without doubt, be drawn on in years to come by other purveyors of violence.” Swami damned “grovelling television reporters”, saying “it is tempting to attribute their “nauseous chorus to fear or obsequiousness”. Swami compared the Sena to Dawood Ibrahim, the mafia, saying it offered “patrongage, profit and power”, though its “core business was the provision of masculinity”. “The Sena ran no great schools, hospitals or charities (and) good works were not part of its language.” He added strong words and in a larger sense, brave words.