In the days since his passing, among other terms of adulation, Bal Thackeray has been hailed as a leader of the masses.
Forming the Shiv Sena in 1966, Thackeray made the most of the fact that the industries of Mumbai offered few avenues to educated Maharashtrian youth and by projecting himself and his party as a an alternative to the establishment. He advocated people taking the law into their own hands if it suited their interests and were being denied by the ruling government.
In an editorial in the Hindu today, Praveen Swami says that the Shiv Sena leader is guilty of something most people chose not to highlight in their obituaries of the leader. Swami says he's guilty of giving birth to an 'authentically Indian fascism':
His fascism was a utopian enterprise — but not in the commonly-understood sense. The Left, a powerful force in the world where Thackeray’s project was born, held out the prospect of a new, egalitarian world. The Congress held the keys to a more mundane, but perhaps more real, earthly paradise: the small-time municipal racket; even the greater ones that led to apartments on Marine Drive. Thackeray’s Shiv Sena wore many veneers: in its time, it was anti-south Indian, anti-north Indian, anti-Muslim. It offered no kind of paradise, though. It seduced mainly by promising the opportunity to kick someone’s head in.
He points out that most forms of fascism seen in the country have largely been regional, confined to state boundaries, and even the wave of Hindutva that swept the Shiv Sena to power in 1995 did not last long enough to keep them there.
Arguing that fascism is a pursuit of the disenchanted youth, Swami says that the situation remains ripe for other political leaders like Thackeray to make the most of anger that still festers among youth who believe they have received a bad deal from the country's economic advances.
There's no clearer example of someone adopting Thackeray's theories than his nephew Raj Thackeray, who with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has largely stood for the same policies that his uncle stood for in 1966. Four decades may have passed, but the success he's found in his brand of politics so far hints that similar movements can survive in India's regional political landscape. Even national parties like the Congress and BJP have preferred to adopt such parties into their fold rather than distance themselves from them.
And unlike other movements, Swami points out that fascist movements are largely male driven, with members of the agitation seeking to reinforce and emphasise their masculinity. Swami says that what the nation needs is a political project that advocates a more progressive masculinity but no political parties occupy that space yet.
Read Swami's complete editorial here.