Comment : The Rise of the Shiv Sena
'The size of the crowd demonstrated just how big an imprint Thackeray left upon the state and the country' It is difficult to believe that anybody...
"The size of the crowd demonstrated just how big an imprint Thackeray left upon the state and the country" 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 he 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 one such ever being 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 Gokhale, Mahadev Govinda Ranade and Kashinath Triambak Telang, NC Kelkar and towards to PK Atre, SA Dange, SM Joshi and their like, it has been one long list, but nobody, one suspects received such an unbelievable some reckon it anything between five lakh to a million � crowd that gathered for Bal's funeral. Many ask: how did a quiet, unassuming cartoonist at one or 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 the South Indian: at learning shorthand and typing. He would tell young lower middle class Maharashtrian 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 Udipi 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 Maharastrian youth to easy jobs. In the end proprietors of Udipi 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 thought 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 Indian were cornering jobs that were the inherent right of Maharashtrian youth. That same section did not favour the exult 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. The Shiv Sena had an unchallengeable hold on large section of Maharastrians from the lower to the middle upper classes. For small parties with some vague ideology, teaming up with the Shiv Sena waa win-win strategy and they accepted it without any qualms. The Shiv Sena catered to the hurt instincts of the Maharashtrian aam aadmi, first through Marmik which gathered a circulation of around 40,000 within two years of its set-up in 1963 and then through Saamna (meaning 'Confrontation') established in January 1989 and within a bare space of five years had built a circulation around 3 lakh. Bollywood understood this perfectly and, as was to become evident, its non-Maharastrian stars even more so. Each cashed in on the others ' popularity. Thackeray had critics in high Maharashtrian circles, of course. Thus, Y.B. Chavan, a Maharashtrian to his finger-tips had no compunction in describing the Shiv Sena as "an Indian fascist movement, by its very character and its very nature" not to speak of its 'ideology' . On another occasion, addressing a large audiences Chavan insisted that "every Indian should be ashamed at the pernicious ideology of the Sena" insisting that "every Indian had the right to seek employment in any part of India." but in the end the Government of Maharashtra had to succumb to reality. On September 25 1973, its Director of Industries issued a directive to government and business establishments asking them to employ local persons in all categories of jobs and 90% 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 means. 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 burning the separatist tendencies harboured by Muslims..When the Hindus become aggressive, even mini-Pakistan's start burning�" Our secularist remained painfully silent. But 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 yielded better results. Bal outdid his father Prabodhankar in many ways. But it is for his son � and successor � Udhav 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 Gen Next.