Bal goes

The love hate persona of Bal Thackeray

VIEWPOINT

ANIL ANAND

You love him, you hate him, but you cannot ignore him. That proverbial description more aptly sticks to the departed Shiv Sena chief Mr Bal Keshav Thackeray than to anyone else of either his generation or people younger to him. His followers loved him the most. But much more than that, he was a convenient tool in the hands of his critics and a delight to lambast.
His death has if deprived his followers of an idol, it has robbed his critics, both in the media and in politics, of an eternal good copy, photograph or a cartoon and a strong anti-communal plank to build upon the counter political view. His extremely parochial regional and communal views and chauvinistic style of functioning if provided him with a foothold in Maharashtra politics, it certainly deprived him of any chance to politically grow in the totally diverse environment outside the state.
It is rather ironic that Mr Thackeray’s brand of politics was designed to border on the Hindu sentiment but got shrunk to stirring the soul of only the Maharashtra Manoos in the name of pandering to regional rather than religious feelings. Leave alone casting his net in the national politics, the Shiv Sena under him could never find feet even in the neighbouring states such as Gujarat and Goa.
He could never acquire a pan-India image perhaps he was content to rule Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra. But what made Mr Thackeray indispensable both for his political allies and rivals alike? While allies needed him to up the ante at crucial junctures either to send strong political messages which they themselves abhorred to do, for the opponents his silence and acerbic oratory proved handy to set their counter political agenda.
Mr Thackeray’s political life is an interesting case study for students of history, journalism and political science and even psychology. A die hard rightwing Hindu and Marathi chauvinist who never made any bones to hide his liking for cigar and bottle of hot beer. A look at the saffron clad Sena supremo and these might sound as dichotomous. But as the one who has observed him closely but from a distance, can say with confidence that there was nothing which he did without any purpose. And more importantly, hypocrisy seldom touched.
But whatever be the other side of his life, Mr Thackeray will be only be remembered for his fiery oratory and violent style of politics. The self-acquired sobriquet of a lion if endeared him to his followers and admirers, his rivals lost no chance to ridicule him as a paper tiger. Whatever be the case, he remained in the limelight which he intelligently used to his and Sena’s political benefit.
Isn’t it ironic that while he backseat drove the Sena and made it part of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra and Delhi (read NDA Government), he never himself plunged into electoral politics?
He was neither in the mould of Mahatma Gandhi or Jai Prakash Narain, who stayed at a distance from the corridors of power, though becoming instrumental in installing governments of the day. Yet he affectively commandeered the party or its governments with a vice-grip. The monolithic structure which the Shiv Sena is, Mr Thackeray was an absolute autocrat in his approach. So strong was his hold and fear on the organisation that no one dared question him, and his word used to be the final. 
Mumbai has been his ‘karma bhumi’ (workshop) for over four decades. His hallmark was the skillful use of language which though always offensive and full of hatred, accrued political dividend to him. Starting in the 1960s as a force to counter the growing influence of the Left wing trade unions in the then Bombay, he gradually spread his wings to other parts of Maharashtra and became a strongest proponent of Hindutava politics and left behind the Sangh Parivar particularly its political arm the BJP.
Mr Thackeray had the knack to create controversies and survive out of them. In fact, he grew from one controversy to another which he used to create every morning, without fail, through the editorials of the Sena mouthpiece ‘Samna’. The entertaining value of his speeches attracted participants to his massive rallies from far and wide. He could ridicule the high and mighty mercilessly which made him popular among his followers. But such utterances inflated the ranks of his detractors as well.
His demise has suddenly thrown a question and the answer to which will be hard to come in a short span of time. What will the Maharasthra (read Mumbai) politics be without Mr Thackeray in the midst?
Talking about Shiv Sena first! The transition is not going to be so easy. While his nephew Mr Raj Thackeray has already parted ways and moulded himself on the lines of Thackeray senior, son Mr Udhav Thackeray is perceived to be mild in his political outlook, an image that runs contrary to the Sena profile.
The biggest question related to the transition is whether Raj will shut his outfit Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and steer the Shiv Sena ship together with his cousin Udhav? There are no easy answers to this question either. Post Bal Thackeray, either they, more so Udhav Thackeray, will have to reconcile to each-others existence. They will have to address the question as to who will ultimately be the head of Shiv Sena if at all the two of them decided to close ranks and join hands.
It raises another question on whether the BJP be in a position to occupy the Hindutava politics space in the absence of Mr Bal Thackeray who had singlehandedly snatched this plank from the former. It will be a difficult decision for the BJP leadership to act against one of the important NDA allies having a considerably support base in Maharashtra.
Already weakened after the untimely demise of Mr Pramod Mahajan and lately controversies surrounding its chief Mr Nitn Gadkari, the BJP will have to tread cautiously. In all probability, the BJP leadership will not do anything to disturb the critical balance between the two alliance partners in Maharashtra in view of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But certainly, the pressure within the BJP will grow to widen its support base in the state before the Shiv Sena took a new shape in the post Bal Thackeray period.
The Shiv Sena space in the state with 48 Lok Sabha seats will be up for grabs. Both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party will spare no effort to grab this opportunity even if the BJP remains defensive.
Whatever be the emerging political scenario, the absence of Mr Bal Thackeray will be strongly felt in the state. Given the controversies surrounding him, he will be equally missed by his rivals and detractors. Whether Udhav or Raj Thackeray will be able to provide political fodder to their supporters and opponents only time will tell.

Lastupdate on : Sun, 18 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 18 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 19 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST




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