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Thursday, November 29, 2012


Some regarded him as Hindu Hriday Samraat ("Emperor of Hindu Hearts"), some as a “Maharashtrian chauvinist”, championing the cause of the Marathi Manoos, some as the greatest orator of our generation, some as the “remote control” and a shrewd politician, while some as spawning a unique brand of fascism....like a true artist - he had a million interpretations, but undoubtedly everyone had to bow to him..and why so?

With almost 2 million attending his stately funeral, the first public funeral at Shivaji Park, after …..Bal Gangadhar Tilak! Yes, that Lokmanya Tilak…Bal Thackeray has definitely entrenched himself in Mumbai’s history book.

Bal Thackeray was a literati just like Tilak – an accomplished cartoonist, the founder-editor of Marathi newspaper Saamna and Hindi newspaper Dopahar Ka Saamna;  but shared traits with Subash Chandra Bose – who he shared the birthday with,  having no qualms in being the “Rebel” – and with Lala Lajpat Rai who he shared his death day with. Yes, the Lion of Mumbai – he totally dominated the Mumbai scene for more than four decade, in fact the very name MUMBAI has to be attributed to him and Shiv Sena – the party that he founded in 1966, much of the inspiration and ideologies being derived from Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj (a name that still evokes zealous inspiration for many of us Mumbaikars who had the chance to study him in 4th grade) -  thus the name Shiv Sena.

Mumbaikars found resonance with his philosophy, calling a spade a spade – and sticking to his guns, all of them blazing hard. The lack of hesitancy he exhibited in calling out anti-national elements; Shiv Sena was a huge balance that put fear in terrorists as well as the under-world. As they said “Challenge him, and you will regret it”. Not a fly by night operator – he knew what he wanted and there was nothing artificial about him. The aura of invincibility stuck to him like a cloak, thanks to the conviction he exhibited in his belief systems and that character and attitude has farmed itself out to Mumbaikars. In this day and age, is there a  politician/ neta / leadership that evokes such righteousness? 

Bal Thackeray exhibited an extraordinary intelligence, initially targeting the communists, ousting them from the trade unions, then the anti-nationals and 'outsiders'; making it a US versus THEM, he definitely knew how to push the right buttons - but seemingly everything was driven with good intentions and that firm belief and conviction. The Shiv Sainiks were completely ingrained into the Mumbai ecosystem; they protected the common man. Neighborhood issues  were resolved quickly, thanks to the big brother Shiv Sena who almost stood around as vigilantes, ready to prevent injustice to the ones without a voice; sometimes even helping circumvent a failed system. The belief of the common man is what provided Thackeray the staying power of four long decades, and that resulted into the homage galore with his passing with the WHO's WHO of Mumbai at his funeral.

"Balasaheb Thackeray was a strong leader of his people - respected and admired by many. He was outspoken but driven by his principles," Ratan Tata

'The silence from the 2 million gathered at Shivaji Park during the last rites, demonstrated two things - the respect for Bala Saheb Thackeray…… Today the thread that bound all the seeds, broken” AMITABH BACHHAN

The Lion of Mumbai will be missed...and will be inspiration for future generations of Mumbaikars!

UPDATE: A good friend just got back from Mumbai. The rumor goes like this: He actually passed away on Monday. The announcement was made on Saturday, wonder why? The Shiva Sainiks waited for almost a 5 days to announce his demise; cause hordes of anti-social elements had descended upon Mumbai from all parts of India and Maharashta, thinking that this was their opportune moment to do some lootmaar. The Shiv Sainiks delayed the announcement, which was actually preceded by an announcement Wednesday that he wason the path to recovery. By Thursday/ Friday these anti-socials had no choice but to leave Mumbai. Thus peace was maintained


Anonymous said...

Well said Rishi!


Unknown said...

Leaders come in many shapes and forms - all of them however tend to have some common elements - an overwhelming idea which sets them on the path of leadership, orating abilities probably being two of them. Balasaheb Thackeray certainly had both of those qualities. However the true essence of a leader is his ability to convert these qualities into something which leaves the world a better place than before - and to do that, these leaders use different paths. So one example is Lee Kuan Yew - a benevolent dictator who had an idea that an independent island city could do better on its own than with Malaysia and set himself up as a benevolent dictator to do precisely what he said - ultimately ending up in creating one of the richest countries in the world.

If one thinks about it there are some parallels between the two -
both started out in the late 60's, are in a sense contemporaries and had similar ideas for the island cities that they called home since Balasaheb's view also was that the island city of Mumbai and its people deserved better (I say Mumbai - even though he tried to present himself as the leader of all Maharashtra, his stronghold was Mumbai). Where I think the idea failed to translate was in doing something on the ground. Effectively the control of reputedly the world's richest municipal corporation (by the way, I think this tag of being the worlds richest corpn is probably as dubious as the claim that 2 million people attended the funeral - no commentator on TV had any scientific basis for the numbers that were claimed. The only one who came close to being somewhat scientific said that Shivaji Park was 2/3's full and its capacity is 6 lakhs)has been int he hands of the Sena and its partner now for over a decade. And it would be fair to say that the living standards in Mumbai have only deteriorated in this decade. The infrastructure is creaking and the less said about the quality of any public utility (other than the power distrn companies) the better. As importantly, as a semi outsider (I have recently returned to Mumbai after 14 years in Delhi), I think that Mumbaikars no longer feel proud about their city - it is almost as if they are in the city either out of sheer inertia or because the jobs are still here - even if much less so than before (because it is a fact that most MNC's have voted with their feet and have moved out of Mumbai)

It is therefore important to ask - what is the legacy? Broadly speaking, I have no problems with benevolent dictators - as one can guess, I have more than a sneaking admiration for that great benevolent dictator Lee Kuan Yew. Nor do I necessarily think that freedoms are more important than material gains. However when one doesn't see any concrete material benefits, then one has to ask - what will he be remembered for? The ability to shut down a city with a single word? I confess that I would rather he have used that power to build the city rather than shut it down at will.

So in a sense, one would have to say - it is at best a mixed legacy - a legacy which said he could have done so much more for the common people that he professed to lead and love - and who did turn out in large numbers - whether 2 lakhs or 2 million is a quibble - the people did turn out. But the jury is unlikely to come back with a favorable answer to the question - did he really benefit the lot of the people that he cared so much about and who also cared about him?

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