Army in Bal Thackeray's hands? Perish the thought...

If proof were needed that the UPA government's ineffectual manner of fighting terrorism and its cynical resort to communal politics are dragging India into a hell world of polarisation by triggering an equally regressive backlash from right-wing communal forces, it comes in the form of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's venomous outpouring in his Saamna interview (more details here).

“Give me control of the army," Thackeray thundered. "I will show you miracles and set everything right within a month. Just hand over the army to me.”

He further let it be known what he would do if he were made supreme commander of the armed forces.  “When I come into my element ('josh'), I will not allow a single fanatic Muslim to live in Maharashtra, and wherever we have party branches, right up to Jammu & Kashmir,” he roared.

Bal Thackeray's hate-mongering is no less dangerous than Muslim fundamentalism. PTI

Thackeray's comments were framed in the immediate context of the recent violence at Azad Maidan in Mumbai, and the Maharashtra government's "softly, softly" approach towards the hordes that seized police SLRs and set media vehicles on fire.

Thackeray's case - that the Azad Maidan violence was not spontaneous, but planned - certainly has some merit in it. The violence came barely days after MIM MP Asaddudin Owaisi warned in Parliament of a "third wave" of Muslim radicalisation,  which was widely seen as a dog whistle to easily inflamed Muslim minds to take to the streets. The violence was also preceded by a disinformation campaign spread on the Internet and social media platforms, which exaggerated and spread blatant lies about Muslim deaths in Assam and Myanmar, using morphed images.

But although Thackeray's comments appear to be directed only at Muslim "fanatics", his rant too is another kind of dog whistle, a complementary echo of Asaddudin's hate-mongering, that is no less dangerous, given the Shiv Sena's well-chronicled record of fomenting targeted violence against Muslims in their entirety for the actions of a fanatical few.

That Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena deliberately blur that line between the " fanatics" and ordinary  Muslims was made abundantly clear from their conduct during the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots, which too Thackeray flagged in his Saamna interview.

“After the Babri Mosque demolition (of 6 December 1992), they (Muslims) started riots in Mumbai. Even during the Godhra carnage, they locked up three bogies of Sabarmati Express and burnt people, women and children, alive. Similarly, the Mumbai violence (of August 2012) was pre-planned,” Thackeray asserted in his interview.

It would, of course, have been right and proper for the state to go after the rioters in Mumbai in 1992-93,  the perpetrators of the Godhra train burning, and the goon squads that wreaked havoc at Azad Maidan last month. Each of those groups made up the fanatical fringe, and deserved their comeuppance.

But in all these cases, the more widespread backlash and targeted violence against ordinary Muslims (in the name of extracting 'blood price' for acts of terrorism) is completely indefensible.

And as the Justice Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry observed in its voluminous report on the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai, there is ample evidence to establish that Bal Thackeray, the 'General' who was commanding his Shiv Sena army,  deliberately blurred the distinction between the perpetrators of the riots and ordinary Muslims.

According to the Commission's findings (details here), at a meeting at Matoshri, Bal Thackeray's residence, on 8 January 1993, when  Mumbai was aflame with riots, Thackeray was heard  "directing the Shiv Sainiks, Shaka Pramukhs and other activists of the Shiv Sena to attack the Muslims... and ensure that 'not a single la... (a deeply pejorative expression, used to refer to Muslims in this case) would survive to give oral evidence."

The Commission further reports:  "While this kind of instructions were being given by Thackeray on telephone, (Shiv Sena leaders)  Shri Ramesh More and Shri Sarpotdar also came in and reported the situation in their respective areas. They were also given similar instructions. Thackeray... also told someone from Jogeshwari to catch hold of A.A. Khan (Additional Commissioner of Police, north region) and send him to 'Allah’s home' at once."

It was the then ineffectual response of the then Congress government in Maharashtra to respond with alacrity to early incidents of rioting in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition that opened up the space for the Shiv Sena's aggressive mobilisation of right-wing extremism through Thackeray's maha-aarti program (aarti festivals at temples, which were intended ostensibly to challenge the use of public space by Muslims for performing namaaz).

Caught between two communal extremes, the Congress government dithered, which effectively allowed the Shiv Sena, under Thackeray's generalship to go after all the Muslims in the name of targeting the "fanatics".

And today, Thackeray wants to be given charge of the Army for a month to "set everything right". Given his and the Shiv Sena's record, it will probably amount to extermination of all "landyas" (his words) under the guise of going after the fanatics.

The UPA government and, specifically, the Congress of course have much to answer for for their failure to tackle Muslim fundamentalism, which in turn has spawned terror attacks and incidents of organised violence. It is this fundamental failing that has created the space for the Shiv Sena tiger, in the autumn of his life, to come to life again with his venomouos hate-mongering rhetoric. Yet, the "cure" that Thackeray prescribes is just as dangerous as the "disease". It's a classic instance of how exteremism at one end feeds off hate-mongering at the other end. Honestly,  a plague on both their houses - and, while we are at it, on the Congress that has through its endless dithering opened up the space for communal politics of all hues.

Editor's note: The pejorative words used in this article are quoted verbatim in the Justice Srikrishna Commission's report, which is in the public domain, and have been widely referenced in the media.

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Updated Date: Sep 09, 2012 10:09:29 IST

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