I had never imagined myself writing about Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena, but life as they say, takes you down paths untrodden. I felt compelled to pen my thoughts on this individual who along with his political party played a dominant hand in shaping the Mumbai society I spent the initial years of my adulthood in.
Having spent the years between 1992-1999 in Dubai, the only time I had felt the power of the Shiv Sena was during the 1993 communal riots which had widespread far beyond the shores of Bombay. As a child aged 8, I was told by someone at school that the Saffron colour represented the Hindus who were led by the Shiv Sena and the Green colour represented the Muslims and were led by parties from Pakistan. Misinformed as I might have been, this was my first brush with the Sainik colours.
I moved back to Bombay in the year 2000, which had now been re-christened to ‘Mumbai’ and spent the next 4 years there before moving to Sydney, Australia. One of my first few thoughts upon returning to Mumbai was, “Why on earth has my hometown been re-christened?”. Upon being told that that the Shiv Sena, when in power along with the coalition in 1996 had chosen to do so in order to eradicate any last traces of British colonisation, and to supposedly re-inforce the ‘Marathi Manoos (sons of Maharashtrian soil)’ spirit, the best I could do was muster a chuckle. Re-inforce pride for the state amongst the people of the state? Since when had re-christening a child helped shape its future?
The most prominent display of power by Bal and his party during the early 2000s was in bringing the city to a halt at the drop of a hat – be it in protest of his arrest, ban on films with homosexual themes, anti-valentine’s day protests, essentially anything that his party and he saw not fit in the city of Mumbai. India (read state) is the largest democracy in the world housing the city of Mumbai within the province of Maharashtra. Correct?
Protests, riots and violent actions by his party against North Indian immigrants in the mid 2000s and against South Indian immigrants in the early 70s bare strong semblance to actions of a certain individual Bal openly admired. The rest of the world might know this off the top of their head, but let me remind Bal’s people – Adolf Hitler was responsible for the systematic extermination of 11.2 million innocent Jews during WW2. Jews, who he confined to concentration camps for a period of 5 years with living conditions even the darkest recesses of your mind would not fathom. If Bal admired an individual who created such horror, I shudder to think that I could possibly be accurate in stating that he named his party the Shiv Sena (SS) as a tribute to his hero.
Bal Keshav Thackeray – hope you find the peace you could not give to your state of origin in your afterlife.