Thackeray, RIP

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who passed away on Saturday, was a queer mixture of regional chauvinism, communal bigotry and nationalistic fervour that made him into a leader, both feared and loved, even outside his theatre of operation – Maharashtra. He revelled in controversies often issuing provocative statements and his politics too was full of contradictions. Beginning his career as a fine cartoonist with a sharp mind, Thackeray branched out into trade unionism and politics in the 1960s.  Mumbai has always been a magnet for people from the rest of the country, especially the working class. Thackeray saw the influx as a threat to Maratha domination and launched Shiv Sena, the country’s one of the first regional parties that used barbaric violence and intimidation against the ‘outsiders’ to gain a political foot-hold. His party hooligans’ attack on the South Indians working and living in Mumbai (then Bombay) was a dark chapter in the history of the city which forced thousands of families to flee, but Thackeray established himself as a heart-throb of the ‘Marathi Manoos.’

While southern India in the Sixties and Seventies did witness regional politics, the ideology practiced by them was moored on casteist ropes. Bal Thackeray on the other hand pioneered a political ideology that had its substratum in providing an identity and power to a person on the street on the basis of language and cultural identity. His brand of politics was later emulated by Asom Gana Parishad in Assam, Akali Dal in Punjab and Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh with various degrees of success. Shiv Sena was able to capture the Bombay Municipal Corporation in mid-1980s and its domination still continues. As his politics of hatred for Muslims coincided with that of the BJP, Thackeray aligned with the Hindutwa forces to help Shiv Sena win the Assembly polls and even enter Parliament. A charismatic leader who could sway the masses with his oratory, Thackeray could have become the chief minister of Maharashtra in 1995, but he always preferred to be the king-maker rather than the king.

An inveterate hater of the Congress, Bal Thackeray, however, followed the Congress’ example of dynastic politics. When he chose his son Uddhav Thackeray over his cousin Raj Thackeray to succeed him as Shiv Sena head, the latter rebelled to form his own party, considerably weakening the regional outfit. Thackeray’s demise now, combined with the changing demographics of Mumbai, may help the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to regain their relevance in Maharashtra politics.

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