It is doubtful if the thinking man in Pakistan shed a tear when he heard that 86-year-old Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray, founder and former head of the Shiv Sena Party of Mumbai, had pegged down from unnatural causes. This is because the Emperor of Hindu Hearts (Hindu Hriday Samraat to his followers) was seen in my country as a rabid, chronic Muslim hater. He was also a confirmed right-wing, anti-communist Indian nationalist with a one-track mind: Maharashtra — for the original citizens of Maharashtra. Or put another way, it was Maharashtra — first and last. This meant making life difficult for Gujaratis and Marwaris who came to engage in business and south Indians in search of employment. At times, the Shiv Sena goons resorted to what they so charmingly referred to as ‘protection money’. The victims were invariably the rich Gujaratis and Marwaris. Not bad for a chap whose forebears had migrated from Bihar.
He was essentially hostile towards the Muslim minority. At times, without any provocation, he would attack them with calculated mendacity and a fetid passion. On one occasion, he sent his thugs to make chalk marks on the houses that housed Muslim dwellers and fomented the 1991 riots. It was rather like the Warsaw Ghetto all over again. If it had not been for Tiger Memon, the Muslm population of Mumbai would have been greatly decimated. And if it had not been for the Mumbai police, who used sniffer dogs, the saga of Bal Thackeray would in all likelihood have ended much earlier. Subsequently, Thackeray offered an olive branch to the victims of the riot and said, “The local Muslims are all right. It is the other Muslims against whom we have a grouse.”
I have been told that quite a few Indians were wary of Thackeray. He was one of the politicians responsible for tarnishing the secular status of the country and destroying the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. And for changing the name of India’s most cosmopolitan city to Mumbai. When the city was called Bombay by the Portuguese, the name conjured up all sorts of exotic and wonderful images. Now, don’t get me wrong. We have got our own share of egocentric, jingoistic scribes in Pakistan who scalped the heads of Montgomery and Lyall and installed Zebunissa in place of Elphinstone in Karachi. A Latin scholar did, however, point out that Mumbai has an unfortunate forum tactus ring about it.
Thackeray was also responsible for sending his goons to burn and loot the cinema, which was screening Deepa Mehta’s poignant film Fire, which centred on the lives of two grossly neglected Indian wives who ended up displaying pronounced Sapphic tendencies. I wondered about that because I always thought that the Shiv Sena gave such sociological issues a wide berth. But then an Indian cinema buff whom I met in Penang informed me that the Shiv Sena took this extreme action because the two women were portrayed as Hindus. If they had been depicted as Muslims, Jews, Catholics or Dutch Amish from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, it would have been all right.
Cartoonist, agitator, Hindu fundamentalist, founder of the Shiv Sena, master of the art of forging temporary alliances with other provincial political parties, anti-communist, thug leader who was once banned for six years from voting or contesting elections and subsequently, controlled the trade unions, finally ended up as the enfant terrible of Bombay. Interestingly, he said more than once that he greatly admired Adolf Hitler, his organising ability, oratory and art and had a lot in common with him. Really! I don’t think the Fuehrer ever killed any Muslims!
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2012.