Note: This is a translation of Pratap Simha’s piece that appeared in Kannada Prabha on November 19, 2012.
But who was he really? Do we go by the opinions of analysts who put him on par with political cartoonists like R.K. Laxman? Or, barring Times Now, do we go by the opinion of the rest of the English news channels who unanimously declare him to be a socially divisive force? Or in light of the several unnecessary statements he made about Belgaum, do we regard him—like many pro-Kannada voices say—as anti-Kannada? Or is he someone who filled the hearts of Maharashtrians with linguistic fanaticism?
Is he the Hindu Hriday Samrat—the Emperor who rules the hearts of Hindus? What does the fact that no leader in the last four decades attracted such a massive sea of people who attended his funeral—after Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar—indicate? What did he truly symbolize? Before we attempt to understand this, let’s recall an article written by Francois Gautier 12 years ago titled Are Hindus Cowards? Gautier holds a mirror to the cowardice and stupidity of Hindus in the piece and holds only one person in very high esteem. Who do you think that person is?
What happens when there is ONE man in India — whatever his faults, quirks, or excesses — who dares to call a spade a spade, is not afraid of words and is ready to stand-up for his opinions? Not only, of course, is he attacked by Christians and Muslims, but he is also hounded by his own brothers and sisters, the "secular" Hindus, the human rights activists, the journalists, the police, the (Congress) politicians! Are Hindus so intent to show the world that not only are they cowards but also idiots? This man, of course, is Bal Thackeray.
When Bal Thackeray said many years ago that there was no point in playing cricket against Pakistan as long as Islamabad was sending militants to kill and maim into Indian territory, he was ridiculed by the secular press as fanatic and un-sportive (and cricket is certainly not a gentleman’s game, as the recent scandal has shown). But he was proved right, when during Kargil, India refused — for once — to play cricket with Pakistan.
When he says too, that since 14 centuries, Muslims always strike first against Hindus, he has another good point, for those who live in Indian cities which have important Muslim minorities will tell you that every time there are Hindu-Muslim riots, it is the Muslims who start them, either by attacking the police, or by provoking the Hindus.
And as Francois Gautier says, the man who fearlessly called a spade a spade is none other than Bala Keshav Thackeray.
The fact that he used to admire the German dictator, Adolf Hitler was a topic that was endlessly discussed and criticized even on the occasion of Bal Thackeray’s Last Journey. However, when we trace Bal Thackeray’s career, the reason for his Hitler-admiration becomes clear. After it was humiliatingly defeated in the First World War in 1919, the America-Britain combine foisted the Treaty of Versailles, thereby adding salt upon an already wounded Germany. Hitler simply roused the pride of Germans against this injustice. Additionally, he was one of the most forceful orators in history.
In 1960, the state of Maharashtra came into existence thanks to the linguistic reorganization scheme. Efforts were on to slice Bombay off from Maharashtra. It was then that Bal Thackeray rose up and thundered that Bombay would burn if any attempt was made to cut it off from Maharashtra. He was, like Hitler, a fierce orator. Back then, Bombay was filled with Gujaratis, Parsis, and South Indians, not too different from today. The perception of Maharashtrians was that they were a lazy lot. It was Bal Thackeray who instilled self-respect and pride in middle-class Maharashtrians, a no mean task. Let’s also recall that in that period, the entire state was divided along caste lines. It was a period when the names of stalwarts like Jyotiba Pule, Sahu Maharaj and Ambedkar dominated the social and political firmament. The fact that Bal Thackeray gave this an entirely new dimension by uniting all Maharashtrians under the banner of Shivaji should count as an exemplary accomplishment.
This period also saw the birth and flowering of militant trade unionism of the Left variety. Bombay was then home to the maximum number of textile mills in the country. The plight of hundreds of thousands of workers was truly pitiable. And therefore, in such an atmosphere, anybody who spoke on behalf of these mill workers became a hero. Workers’ Unions were formed and they were mostly controlled by Leftists. However, even in such circumstances, it was only Bal Thackeray who ensured that Bombay didn’t fall into the violent clutches of these Leftist Trade Unions. It was Bal Thackeray who ensured that the Left parties didn’t win a single election.
Today, it’s unfair to judge Bal Thackeray merely on the basis of some politically-expedient statements he issued with regard to Belgaum. If anything, his worldview transcended the narrow confines of caste, region, and language. The example of Sanjay Nirupam, a Bihari, comes to mind. He was first elected as an MP on a Shiv Sena ticket. If Bal Thackeray was indeed the fanatical linguistic leader he’s portrayed to be, would he step in and rescue Sikhs in 1984? In the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Sikhs were attacked in almost all parts of India. Delhi alone witnessed the genocide of more than 3000 Sikhs. However, in Bombay not one Sikh was harmed thanks to Bal Thackeray who issued a stern warning against any such attempt, yet another demonstration of the extent of his power.
The Mandal conflagration that erupted between 1989-91 saw a lone dissenter in the form of Bal Thackeray who opposed the vile, caste-based reservations aimed at perpetuating V.P. Singh’s power. This dissent despite the fact that backward castes make up about 70% of the Shiv Sena cadre. Not just this. The fact that he managed to triumph in the 1995 assembly polls shows that he was able to digest this dissension.
In 2007, Arnab Goswami in an interview asked Bal Thackeray, “Because some Muslims are involved in terrorism, how fair is it to tarnish the entire community?” To which, Thackeray’s gutsy reply was: “Why don’t you question those who in 1948, set fire to the houses of Brahmins because Nathuram Godse was a Brahmin?” And, “If all of us accept that we are the citizens of one nation, where does the question of minorities come from?” Only Bal Thackeray possessed this kind of defiant courage.
Whatever pseudo secularists may harp about Shiv Sena, it is a fact that this organization is responsible for reducing and containing the perverse phenomenon of vulgar eve-teasing in Bombay. Even as we speak, Shiv Sena continues to assist poor people by providing them with free ambulance services and blood donations. Additionally, Bal Thackeray to a great extent acted as a bulwark to check the excesses of underworld gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim, Chota Shakeel and Chota Rajan.
The fact that the people of Bombay have repeatedly elected the Shiv Sena (and later the Shiv Sena-BJP combine) in the Municipal Elections since 1985 is a testimony to the faith they continue to repose in them. The Washington Post in one of its pieces wrote that Bal Thackeray was the man “who rules Bombay the way Al Capone ruled Chicago—through fear and intimidation.” If that were indeed true, why would 20 lakh people—almost 1/5th the population of Bombay—attend his funeral? The last time India witnessed this kind of crowd was when the likes of Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar passed away.
As Gautier says, Bal Thackeray was the only man who called a spade a spade and had the pluck to stand by his statements. In 1992 when the Babri Masjid was destroyed in Ayodhya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee acted as if the sky had fallen down upon him. And later, L.K. Advani cravenly wailed before the Liberhan Commission that “December 6 was the saddest day of my life.” However, it was only Bal Thackeray who said that “if the Babri Masjid was broken down by Shiv Sainiks, I would have been proud of them!” It was only Bal Thackeray who had the gumption to declare that “the only way to defeat the rising threat of Islamic terrorism is to counter it with Hindu terrorism.” If these things don’t make him the Hindu Hriday Samrat, nothing else does.
To quote Gautier again, “’Arise O Hindus, stop being cowards, remember that a nation requires Kshatriyas, warriors, to defend knowledge, to protect one’s women and children, to guard one’s borders from the enemy….And do Indians need a Bal Thackeray to remind them of that simple truth?”
Yes, Indians definitely do need him. But sadly, he is no more!