Well, many things that are passed on to us while we are in a developing stage turn out to be just tittle-tattle, but that never seemed to be the case vis-à-vis Bal Thackeray. In newspapers, on satellite TV, on radio and over the Internet, the more I read about the so-called Hindu nationalist over the years, the more reasons I had to feel disgusted at even the mention of this demagogue.
Post the demolition of 16th century Babri Masjid by Hindu zealots in 1992, clashes erupted across India and Bombay (now Mumbai), being a state, hosting a large chunk of Muslim population was not an exception. Shiv Sena, led by Thackeray, along with right-wing Hindu parties like Jan Sangh, RSS and BJP added fuel to the fire by organizing celebrations post the demolition on the streets next to Muslim households and the motive was clear – instigate and butcher them.
According to Justice BN Srikrishna report – commissioned by the state government to investigate the 1992-93 riots – “from July 1992 onwards, political campaigns of parties like Shiv Sena were charged by slogans like, ‘Is desh me rahana hoga, to Vande Mataram bolna hoga’; “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” and “Hindustan Hinduonka, nahi kisike baap ka’.”
More than a decade later, “Hinduhriday-samrat”, as Thackeray’s supporters would call him had become more virulent, in contrast to rules of nature: with age comes wisdom. Let us take a look at some of his recent hate-speech.
“They [Muslims] are spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer. The… country should be saved from the Muslims and the police should support them [Hindu Maha Sangh] in their struggle just like the police in Punjab were sympathetic to the Khalistanis.”
“Islamic terrorism is growing and Hindu terrorism is the only way to counter it. We need suicide bomb squads to protect India and Hindus.”
Not only Muslims, immigrants from Bihar and UP – mostly taxi drivers and roadside vendors – have been at the receiving end of Thackeray’s vituperative campaigns. In an editorial in his party mouthpiece, Saamna, he once wrote, ‘ Ek Bihari, Sau bemari’, denigrating the community and even called them ‘unwanted’ in Maharashtra.
He would call south Indians with derogatory names, ‘lungiwaale and Yanda Gundu’, attacked Udipi restaurants and theatres screening south Indian cinemas.
Well, one can dismiss all this bigotry as a case of mental derangement or a simple case of lust to achieve power by hook or crook, but how can one come to terms with the government awarding state funeral to the person who played a key role in the killing of thousands of Muslims in 1992-93 riots? What would victims of those riots, who were never provided justice, conclude from this action?
In 1993, on the eve of New Year, an article appeared in Saamna, with the headline, “Hindunni Akramak Vhayala Have” (Hindus must become aggressors), openly inciting Hindus to violence. Thackeray was arrested and produced before a magistrate as well, but strangely, he was released without any conviction as the latter dismissed the case as time-barred.
Allow me to quote Voltaire here.
“All murderers are punished except for those that kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
But here the government went a step further. It didn’t punish the so-called custodian of Mumbai or ‘uncrowned king of financial capital’ as some media houses wrote while eulogising him, but decided to honour him when he wouldn’t have intimidated them – something he along with his followers had been following all his life. Just imagine how the mother, who lost her only son in the riots would have felt when 21-gun salute resonated in the air? She would have felt insulted, to say the least.
Adding to the bandwagon of celebrities, most of them who were bullied by Thackeray while he was alive, media also didn’t leave a stone unturned in eulogizing the Sena chief. Perhaps, it is the inherent quality of Indian journalists to eulogise dead, irrespective of their actions and their repercussions. Throughout the day, obituaries were written and broadcasted by various media outlets – forgetting Thackeray’s spiteful legacy.
The cruel irony – Thackeray’s body was wrapped in the Indian tricolour – the same flag and the same country’s constitution he was at war with his whole life. He threatened and intimidated and justified violence to achieve his political goals. But media has made a hero out of him with the aid of state government.
Though he has successfully passed on his venomous legacy to his son Udhav; and nephew Raj Thackeray in particular, who has been carrying on his mission of working against the rights of citizens of the country to work in Maharashtra, but state funeral has made clear the message to his supporters and admirers – use violence at your will. Punished you won’t be, but you will ceratinly be honoured.
Although one positive that I see has come out of this funeral is that no violence has been reported despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of Thackeray’s sad supporters – they have apparently dumped his message of violence at his deathbed. Let’s pray they did.