3 of us, all engineering students, were riding on a scooter. All of a sudden, a cyclist appeared from a side lane & both vehicles braked in time to avert a collision. Now, this cyclist was a very young boy, who was not even in a position to put his leg over the crossbar of the bicycle! One of us instinctively said something like "dekh kar chala", to which the kid replied "jyada bolne ka nahin, Shiv Sena mein hu" (or something to that effect).
This happened in the early nineties, but not in Mumbai (or Bombay, as it was then called). The place was Baroda, location - Kirti Stambh, just outside our college. Our response? We simply rode off. There were 3 of us, with a whole lot of friends just across the boundary, against a young child. But it made no sense to get entangled with a school kid who claimed to be a member of the Shiv Sena!
You can guess why it has never been a surprise to me when the biggies of corporate India & Bollywood regularly paid their obeisance to the grand patriarch of the Shiv Sena & the uncrowned King of Mumbai (not Bhiku Mhatre of Satya, stupid).
Around 20 years later, it is heartening to hear my good friend, Suresh Iyer, telling me that "the militant shiv sainik is a thing of the past". But definitely not heartening were the obits to the departed Shiv Sena founder on facebook by my connections. A congress member on one of the english news channels put these obits in proper perspective - in Indian culture, one doesn't speak ill of the departed. Those who agree with his ideology, have every right to express their fondness for the person. But the ones trying to be culturally correct are only legitimatizing his legacy. What is it that Bal Thackeray leaves behind?
Bal Thackeray (simply called BT over the rest of the post) did not pioneer the linguistic politics in India, though he did personify it. He simply gave it an aggressive & violent dimension. And he ensured his longevity (or should it be relevance?) by consistently identifying a new set of targets, thus extending the shelf life of his political formation. It began with the Gujaratis & South Indians, continued with the Muslims & Pakistani cricketers (for a short duration, the Sikhs too) & is currently in formation against the Biharis & North Indians. All were, inadvertantly, migrants & filled a gap in the economic capital of India.
All these battles were fought on behalf of the marathi manoos, the nation be damned. He ran out Sachin Tendulkar on the marathi pitch for this very reason. BT was upset that Sachin had hurt the feelings of the marathi manoos, for stating that he was an Indian first despite professing to be proud of being a Maharashtrian. The only time the nationalistic streak was in evidence was when they prevented an India-Pakistan match by digging up the pitch at Ferozeshah Kotla, thus helping the Indian team avoid a loss to the arch rivals on home turf!
It is ironical that Shiv Sena's base has been Mumbai, the most (if not the only) cosmopolitan of Indian cities. If politics was one aspect of Sena's activities, there were other dimensions too that have scarred the city's recent history. Like, the moral & cultural policing, the involvement in unlawful activities, the strong arm tactics to bully opponents into falling in line. It goes to Mumbai's (and Mumbaikar's) credit, that the city has not shed much of this character, despite umpteen Sena victories at the hustings.
Of course, he was a man of his own views. Like when he supported Indira Gandhi during the emergency or went against the NDA to get Pratibha Patil elected as the President. While the support for emergency was in line with his known beliefs, the support to Pratibha Patil had a wholly sectarian motive.
BT was also consistent in making & breaking alliances. He has allied with the entire spectrum of the polity - Socialists (PSP), Dalits (RPI), Muslims (Muslim League). This photograph shows BT with his later bitter opponents - Sharad Pawar & George Fernandes. It is only the alliance with BJP that has stood intact for a long period. This may be because this was the only alliance that handed him the keys to Sachivalaya. Of course, he never occupied any official position in the government. But, he always had the Remote Control with him all the time. (The Government accorded BT a state funeral, which he deserved. I request BT supporters to pls remember this if a congress government at the centre decides to honour Sonia Gandhi too with a state funeral. After all, she also holds only the Remote Control.)
He had the wit (and the vitriol) in his writings, that perhaps came from his days as a cartoonist. Some of today's politicians have tried to emulate him. One of the most prominent acknowledged him as a role model, while paying homage to the departed leader. It is another matter that he has been unable to match BT's wit in his words, though he has surpassed BT in actions.
BT defied the conventional image of a politician. Smoking pipe (later cigars) or drinking beer in public. Robed in saffron (earlier white), laden with rudraksha's, seated on a huge throne, he created a brand for himself. A brand, which was deified by his followers. What also endeared him to the masses was his abhorrence of dynastic politics. This was best exemplified by the appointment of party loyalist, Manohar Joshi, as the Chief Minister of the 1st Sena-BJP government. However, the sentiments got the better of him, when he annointed his son, Uddhav, as his heir, thus forcing the nephew to break-off & form his own political front.
Suresh, the violent shiv sainiks may have all migrated to the MNS.
Coming back to the legacy of Bal Thackeray, I am reminded of the poem "Ozymandias" by PB Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.