Bal Thackeray & The Rise of the Shiv Sena; Vaibhav Purandare; Roli Books; Pp 263, Rs 350.00
IT is difficult to believe that anybody would dare to write a biography of Bal Thackeray with such honesty and objectivity. But Vaibhav Purandare has done just that and deserves high praise. One does not know of any other similar biography written about the Shiv Sena leader. There has never before been another leader comparable to Bal and one can’t imagine any such one will ever be born again. In an inexplicable way Bal Thackeray remains unique.
The turn-out at his funeral was one of the largest – if not the largest ever seen in post-independence India, as Purandare has rightly noted: “The size of the crowd demonstrated just how big an imprint Thackeray left upon the state and the country”. It is not that Maharashtra has had no great leaders. From the days of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopala Krishna Gokhle, Mahadev Govinda Ranade and Kashinath Triambak Telang, N,C, Kelkar and onwards to PK Atre, SA Dange, SM Joshi and their like, it has been one long list, but nobody, one suspects received such an unbelievable funeral some reckon it anything between five lakh to million – crowd that gathered for Bal’s funeral. Many ask: how did a quiet, unassuming cartoonist at one of India’s leading newspapers transform into a fire-breathing chief of a frankly militant and openly violent political set-up?
For Bal, violence, unrelieved violence, was the be-all and end-all of political action. And he made no bones about it. it is not clear how Bal came to hate South Indians; he couldn’t differentiate between Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada speaking people, contemptuously dismissing them all as ‘Madrasis’, lungi-wearing ‘yandugundus’ (whatever that meant) who were “stealing” jobs from innocent Maharashtrians.
He wouldn’t accept the fact that no one prevented Maharashtrian youth from competing with South Indians at learning shorthand and typing. He would tell young lower middle class Maharashtra youth that ‘outsiders’ were taking away their jobs while suggesting a quick-fix solution: “Hit them, drive them away and get your rightful position”. He couldn’t stand Udupi restaurants that were doing well. They became targets of Sainiks. When he was asked what prevented Maharashtrians from establishing their own restaurants he had no answer. Bal was not interested in encouraging entrepreneurship. All he was interested in was access to Maharashtrian youth to easy jobs. In the end proprietors of Udupi restaurants cut a deal with Thackeray to end Sainik goondaism. About this time Bombay’s textile mills were going through a crisis spurred by technological changes and were going through a hard time affecting Maharashtrian labour. Communist Unions were promoting strikes; unable to handle them, mill-owners did what they though was apt; they sought Shiv Sena help to strangle communist trade unions. Violence was often resorted to in which Sainiks exulted. Like paid news, this was paid violence. The Sainiks won; in the end mills closed down; the rest is history.
In all fairness it must be acknowledged that quite a strong section of the Marathi-speaking population acutely resented Thackeray’s charge that south Indians were cornering jobs that were the inherent right of Maharashtrian youth. That some section did not favour the cult of violence advocated by Thackeray. But the Congress Party did not mind, as long as it served its purpose. Nor did some other parties like the PSP, PDP and the Samyukta Socialist.
On 25 September 1973, its Director of Industries issued a directive to government and business establishment asking them to employ local persons in all categories of jobs and 90 per cent of staff in lower positions should be selected from among local applicants. In a way it was a victory of sorts to the Shiv Sena. The most poignant issue that the powers-that-be had to face was whether ends justified mans. Thackeray had clear views in the matter. Ends justified everything, including ‘constructive violence’. One example were the riots of 1992-93 in comparison to which the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat pale into insignificance. Wrote Thackeray in Saamna: “Mumbai is burning….The arrogant belief of traitorous fanatics that they are victors is going to be reduced to ashes…. Hindus have made them bite the dust…. Hindus have started hurting the separatist tendencies harboured by Muslims…. When the Hindus become aggressive, even mini-Pakistan start burning …” our secularists remained painfully silent.
To know Thackeray in all his faces one has to read this unique work. Often he comes through as intensely human and caring. Even his worst enemies would find it difficult to put it down. There is a lot said about Bal and his large family, his relationship with friends and foes, his total command over his fans (he once threatened to resign from the Sena leadership and the drama that followed has to be read to be believed).
Bal’s control over the Marathi manoos always remained endless. That his nephew, Raj, left him to start his own party will always remain an enigma. A greater question that Purandare has failed to address himself to is whether a Gandhian approach to the economic betterment of the Marathi manoos would not have vielded better results. Bal outdid his father Prabodhankar in many ways. But it is for his son-and successor – Uddhav to ponder over the matter, and put Raj to shame. Vaibhav Purandare through his classical study of the life and times of Bal Thackeray has unwittingly raised many issues that need to be attended to by the GenNext.
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