No matter how hard the Shiv Sena tries to project Bal Thackeray as one of the greatest Indians ever, it can never erase the dark, ugly stains of communalism, hatred and violence that tainted and besmirched the personality and legacy of its supreme commander.
An unaccounted number of people — certainly in their hundreds if not thousands— have been killed, maimed or scarred for life in the violence that was repeatedly unleashed by the Sena on the instructions of Bal Thackeray during the four decades when he emerged as the biggest bully in Mumbai.
He had other qualities which endeared him to large sections of the masses and this was reflected in the extraordinary turnout —truly, a sea of humanity— at his funeral. But given the Sena’s reputation and proclivity to violence, Mumbai trembled on the day of his funeral, and shopkeepers, those supplying perishables such as milk and hand-to-mouth roadside vendors selling vegetables preferred to suspend business rather than invite vandalism.
Taken aback by the orderly conduct of the hundreds of thousands in the funeral procession, TV anchors and their panelists waxed eloquent, hour after hour, on the greatness of Thackeray. Almost all of them and the biopics they showed on their channels glossed over or made passing references to the culture of violence and especially the carnage of the 1992-93 Bombay riots, for which the Shiv Sena had been slammed by the Srikrishna Commission.
Given this history, many people were uncomfortable with the state honours given to Thackeray by the Maharashtra government. There was also no unanimity in Parliament on the demand by the BJP, Sena and the NCP for adjourning the opening day of the winter session as a mark of respect.
Shocked by the harassment of the two girls over their comments on Facebook on the shutdown in Mumbai and surrounding areas, an American journalist remarked aptly that this was similar to the “Emperor has no clothes” story. All hell broke loose when the girls pointed out what was obvious to all.
The path ahead is full of challenges for the Shiv Sena and its leader Uddhav Thackeray, and yet this party has the opportunity to win the hearts of the people of Maharashtra, not just Mumbai.
The Shiv Sena should not be unreasonable in its demand for a grand memorial at Shivaji Park where Thackeray was cremated, or be unreasonable in demanding that anything and everything — from airports to prominent railway stations and infrastructure projects — in Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra be named after Bal Thackeray. The issue of a memorial at Shivaji Park has already become politicised and any such memorial that is forced upon the people through intimidatory politics will lose its sanctity.
One of the most sensible suggestions by Bal Thackeray was the construction of a hospital at the disputed Babri Masjid — Ram Janmabhoomi site at Ayodhya, as an amicable solution to end the dispute between Hindus and Muslims. This was rather uncharacteristic of Thackeray, who was anointed Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu hearts) by his followers, and who had spent a lifetime in bashing Muslims every time he felt provoked.
Instant justice through instant violence was a principle applied by Thackeray as a part of his political philosophy. The times were different when Bal Thackeray was at his peak, and it is doubtful to what extent his official and unofficial heirs — Uddhav and Raj Thackeray— will be able to continue with the politics of intimidation and violence in this age of television and an assertive civil society.
The Shiv Sena or the MNS post-Thackeray will have to show greater maturity, inclusiveness and a constructive — not destructive — approach to the problems at hand.
A good beginning can be made by proposing that a world-class hospital will be constructed in the memory of the late Sena supremo. This nation needs as many good hospitals for the poor as it can get. In the case of Thackeray, there will neither be a dearth of funds, expertise or availability of government land for such project. It could perhaps be headed by Dr Jalil Parker, his personal physician at the time of his death, and yes, a Muslim.
What is better? A grand, empty memorial whose statue and architecture can be marveled at by the people or a memorial hospital for the poor, for the benefit of the society at large?
Now that Bal Thackeray is no more, the Shiv Sena will be able to survive and remain relevant in state and national politics only if it is able to reinvent itself by thinking differently and in an innovative manner. Resorting to violence and intimidation at the drop of a coin won’t take it too far in this age and time. The times have changed and it is time to think, and think afresh.