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Moneylife » Economy & Nation » Politics » The Balasaheb Thackeray phenomenon: A hatke view

The Balasaheb Thackeray phenomenon: A hatke view

Vinita Deshmukh | 19/11/2012 12:22 PM | 

We Indians breathe regionalism and hence regional leaders become icons. How exactly did Balasaheb Thackeray touch the heart of the “Marathi Manoos”?

The “Marathi Manoos” loves the Intellect. He loves forthrightness, courage of conviction, creativity and sarcasm! He also loves anyone who worships Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Balasaheb Thackeray was an embodiment of all these put together with an additional bonanza of possessing political acumen which he executed through his political party—Shiv Sena—the name inspired by the great Maratha King.


The “Marathi Manoos” especially during the 1960s and 70s possessed a hidden inferiority complex aptly portrayed recently by the Marathi movie “Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy”. Now, with the world having become a global village and Maharashtrians playing a big role in different professions (including the IT industry in a big way); entrepreneurship and easy availability of English school education, the level of confidence has surely shot up, but the “inferiority complex” thing still lies subconsciously hidden. Also, history lovers love to bring out the aspect of the historical animosity between the Northern and Maratha Empires that still perhaps lingers. It is these two aspects that Balasaheb used to good effect when he launched his fledgling political party, Shiv Sena, in 1966 to amplify the “Marathi Manoos” rhetoric.


The very idea that someone is taking up the cause of the locals in terms of employment and regional identity surely aroused curiosity and interest going by the five lakh Mumbaikars who were present at the first public speech of Balasaheb Thackeray at Shivaji Park in Dadar (where he was also cremated). Thereafter, besides the breaking of the leftist-socialist trade unions that dominated Mumbai then, he had already carved his place in the heart of every Maharashtrian living in and outside Maharashtra, even overseas, for the “Marathi Manoos” identity.


With a formidable network of Shiv Sena branches all over Mumbai, other cities and towns and Shiv Sainiks who were ready to obey his orders of taking law into their own hands, often with indulgence in violence and destruction of public property, Balasaheb created the “fear factor” to which even law enforcing authorities often relented. No one wants to take ‘panga’ with the Shiv Sainiks and this has led to their extortion tactics in various ways particularly in the industrial belts. Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to Balasaheb Thackeray for being ignorant on this front, the fact is, it has reached cancerous proportions today. At the other end, local level Shiv Sainiks are well connected with the aam aadmi and do address individual and community issues.


Balasaheb’s control over Mumbai with the mere raising of his hand is authoritarian in nature. Subsequently, we have seen Raj Thackeray, a natural successor of Balasaheb in terms of his firebrand personality effusing the same rhetoric with much the same style. Thus, taking law into your hands continues. Uddhav Thackeray the pronounced official successor is a great organizer but is too mild-mannered to fit into the image of the Shiv Sena associated with aggressiveness. Balasaheb was a political brand that was fiery; Raj has followed his footsteps.


However, what has happened to the Marathi Manoos in these six decades that Balasaheb Thackeray ruled? Psychologically it may have given strength to the Marathi identity and made the migrants aware that they better respect the “Karma bhoomi” (Maharashtra) but the stark reality is large scale unemployment amongst the Maharaashtrian youth, especially in urban slums. Drug and alcoholic addiction has become rampant. Laziness has set in with a harsh tone of arrogance as a livelihood, but extortion has become common practice.


Perhaps Balasaheb’s passing away might bring in the two warring cousins together considering that Uddhav’s health is not in its pinkest. If, as BJP insiders say, the coming together of the two cousins is a definite reality, the fact is, Uddhav will have to play second fiddle. Would he do that? Would Raj be magnanimous enough to share political advantage which has automatically come his way?


Whatever the future is, the question will be whether the raising of junior Thackerays’ hands are enough for Mumbai and Maharashtra to obey their command? Perhaps that era has been consigned to flames. With anti-corruption movements steered by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal wherein the awareness of good and corruption-free governance is increasing amongst citizens, it will require the Thackerays to deliver much more than just indulging in fear psychosis and the “Marathi Manoos” rhetoric. If they make themselves relevant to the times, the Marathi Manoos will still pledge by them.


(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)

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Sudhir Jatar

Sudhir Jatar 3 years ago

In my comment below on Vineeta Deshmukh's article, I have stated facts duly supported by evidence. The theme of my comment is that the actions and reactions are equal and opposite or more. In this case, the reaction is more than the action because of Thakeray's personality. That is why I am weaving my argument around vote-bank secularism in which our so-called secular political parties excel. My whole argument is based on the our propensity towards vote-bank secularism.
What happened to the two girls who were arrested was not government policy. In fact, newspapers have reported that the DGP had given both written and verbal orders not to arrest the girls. Then how come the juniors took the law in their own hands?
This is because the 'rank & file' is indoctrinated with the anti-minority sentiments by quoting various instances, which are factual.
One has to interpret Mumbai politics.
The fear complex does pose a threat to India. The major division in Indian polity is “secular Vs. communal” without precisely defining the meanings of these terms.
The influential voices said what they said on the death of Thakeray either out of fear of Shiv Sena ransacking them or to wean away Thakeray’s vote-bank in the aftermath of the death of the only figure with charisma in SS. This is clearly evidenced by the arrests of the two girls who posted the commonly felt view on face book and the repercussions that followed in a state governed by ‘secular’ parties. Note that out of the ten miscreants who ransacked the ‘uncle’s’ clinic, four were Muslims.

Obsequiousness is certainly a trait of the Indian. Look at all political parties except perhaps the BJP and the Left. All are servile to their ‘leader’ who is supreme no matter if he or she if half-educated (VII standard pass or fail) or is not born in India or pre-partition India!
Thakeray’s fascism was born out of ‘vote-bank’ secularism. In India, ‘secularism’ largely means “reaching out to the minority community, which is a vote-bank.” This has become a pre-condition to prove one’s secular credentials. Mani Shankar Iyer, as the Petroleum Minister, removed the plaque in memory of Savarkar in the Cellular Jail in the Andamans where Savarkar spent over 20 years and the major part of his youth. Correspondingly, Iyer spent these years in the Foreign Service having the best of everything. However, Iyer ‘forgot’ to object to the sound & light show for the tourists at the Cellular Jail, which eulogised Savarkar. Obviously, he just wanted to curry favour with Congress vote-bank by making an issue out of a non-issue when he went to unveil the plaque at the Cellular Jail.
It is the narrow parochialism of our political parties, vote-bank politics, wooing the minorities etc that has brought up the likes of Thakeray and Bhindranwale. And it will continue until the our 'secular' parties mend their ways.
The present day concept of "secularism" is "sanctimonious" and reaching out to the minorities to prove one's secular credentials as Amitabha Bagchi says in his article in the Outlook magazine. "Pseudo" secularism has become "vote-bank" secularism, which is "sanctimonious", "hypocritical" and wooing Muslims at the cost of other minorities. Government's education scheme is a blatant example. The minority scholarships are granted centrally but selections are state-wise. The result is that minorities are identified centrally and made eligible. Hence, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are eligible for minority scholarships even in the states where they are in a majority. But Hindus who are in minority in these states are not eligible for scholarships because 'minority' is identified for the whole country.
Thus, it has not taken long to convert "vote-bank" secularism into a commercial venture on which a large number of so-called intellectuals are thriving today. This is corruption and is ailing India. Thakeray took advantage of the situation and exploited it to his self-promotion. The national secular project is certainly going to die and the cause will be that these secularists have converted secularism into a commercial venture where corruption rules and fascism thrives.
Thakeray was promoted by the Congress to fight the Left, which was taking over the trade unions in Mumbai. The top brass of the Mumbai industries was entirely non-Maharashtrian. Thakeray exploited this situation, not by objecting to the top brass being non-Maharashtrian but violently making it known that Shiv Sena would not accept the top brass bringing in skilled and unskilled labour from the states to which they belonged into Mumbai. It was the slogan, “Mumbai for Maharashtrians”. Obviously, were it not for the folly of the non-Marathis to import labour from outside Maharashtra violating the labour laws that made Thakeray win over the Marathi speaking lower middle class. You still find that echo in the rank and file of the police force who, on their own initiative, arrested the two innocent girls who tweeted on the face book after his death. It is the perception that matters; not always the reality. It is thus that he targeted different groups at different times. It was part of a well crafted strategy; not merely fascism. Again, it is incorrect to say that Shiv Sena did not do anything for the down trodden. SS adopted slums in the 60s and 70s and that is the reason why even Bangladeshi migrants living in Mumbai slums vote for the SS.

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Nilesh KAMERKAR 3 years ago

No matter what . . . Ek Hi Tha Tiger!

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Swapnil Hasabnis

Swapnil Hasabnis 3 years ago

One of the greatest leaders of Maharashtra.He was always proven right and spoke from the heart.He saved Sikhs from being massacred in Maharashtra.He though his remote control changed the injustice that took place in Kashmir in 1993 with regards to Amarnath Piligrims. When extremist said that they wont allow hindus to visit amarnath cave, our pm and defence minister at that time couldnt do anything. Balasaheb, true to his style, didnt care what pandits and paid media would say, warned that if Hindus were not allowed to visit Amarnath Cave, he would not allow any muslim to visit haj from. The mere statement changed the game and the extremists had to back off. No leader in India had the courage and conviction to say the right thing at the right time inspite of the fear of being unpopular to the Page 3 party going learned journos and people. Hats off to Balasaheb, a true hindurudaysamrat who cared for all religions. He helped many muslims too. He was only anti nationals,Not anti muslim. He trusted a indian muslim doctor and not like some italian queen who goes to america for treatment (? for what).The page 3 paid journos will never question her. The greatness of Balasaheb lies in the fact that he opened up his politics as he saw minority appeasement on the rise and some party who claimed to be Hindutuvawadi party were following Gandhian Socialism. He never cared for his image, never back tracked, there was no printing mistakes in his paper..Truly a legend. I paid last respects to him by going from Mahim to Shivaji Park. And yes i am not a shiv sainik nor SS has given me anything..But i owe this man a lot..

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Kunju Kannan

Kunju Kannan 3 years ago

I am not able to understand where these commentators get their information from. Some say "more than a million people" attended his funeral; some others, including TV channels, put it around "two million". And according to the police, if newspaper reports are to be believed, the figure is around 2 to 3 lakh!
Looks like everything about this man is grossly exaggerated. And since our society believes in not talking ill of the dead, people are trying to discover or invent a virtue in every act of his. Wonder whether the literate class is the biggest enemy of history as well as our nation.

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Shashikant Koppikar

Shashikant Koppikar 3 years ago in reply to Kunju Kannan

Variation in the figure attending is not the reason for deriding the person's thinking. You are entittled to your views. Please respect other peoples similar entitlement and if you disagree, use logic and reason to counter the arguments.
Another important issue. I hope you castigate other public personalities with similar venom. If yes, I don't see any evedence of it on any blog. And I view a lot many of them. Being selective causes more harm than good.

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Anitha 3 years ago

The rumor mongers in the Main Stream Media, the libtards and the sickularists could not simply digest the fact that more than a million people converged at Mumbai for Balasaheb's final journey and yet not a single instance of violence was reported. In order to overcome their strong feeling of disappointment, articles like this started coming out. In all fairness, Vinita Deshmukh is not the only person to write on these lines. There were many others. While this article may not have been "Cut and past" from other such articles, the feelings expressed are definitely cut and paste from other such pieces, though the author has put it in her own words! Even the libtards are not retards to the extent of blatantly doing a cut and paste job!

Coming back to Balasaheb, let me tell you this. I am from Karnataka. Balasaheb acted against people from my state in the late sixties and early seventies. That was a different era, different social context. It may be difficult for us to look at those events from today's social perspective and pass comments. What he gave to marathi manoos was a sense of identity. A sense of pride. A sense of belongingness. To that extent he was successful.

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