Sujata Anandan’s journey through the last nearly 50 years of Mumbai was for me a kind personal memoir. She has directly covered the 30-year period of these five decades as an active journalist, reflected on the phenomenon called “Hindu Hriday Samrat” Balasaheb Thackeray, analysed the impact of the Shiv Sena and interpreted the roller-coaster politics of Maharashtra.
I was a student in my teens when the Shiv Sena was launched. We were all fired up by the appeal made through Marmik, the first cartoon weekly edited by Bal Thackeray (not Balasaheb then), to preserve, promote and project the idea of Marathi pride, language and Mumbai. The organisation was supposed to be non-political and was to highlight grievances and rights of the Marathi community in Mumbai. The notion of Hindu pride was not on the agenda. In fact, Balasaheb used to ridicule the Sangh Parivar. So Shiv Sena travelled on the road, sometimes aimlessly and sometimes with changing goalposts. Violence was often the core of their action and the medium of their expression.
The recent episode in Delhi, Shiv Sena MPs force-feeding a Muslim employee on his Ramzan fasting day in the Maharashtra Sadan, and not apologising later is typical of their style. In this case, they were newly elected Shiv Sena members of Parliament. Their political status had seen elevation, but their style had remained exactly the same, in the 49th year of Shiv Sena’s existence. The idea of forming an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party had little to do with the ideology of “Hindutva”. On its own, Shiv Sena was not able to win enough seats to make a claim to power and same was true of the BJP (and Jan Sangh in the past). The strategy has paid dividends. In 1995, the saffron alliance came to power. And this year they are almost sure to take over the reins of the state, riding on anti-incumbency and the so-called Modi wave. Sujata’s book project could not have been better timed. It was a difficult project to undertake. It involved risk to personal and professional life. It was also a journalistic challenge, because there is no comparable character in the political firmament of India after Independence.
The book, Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena Changed Mumbai Forever, is the story of Bal Thackeray’s “success”, howsoever limited it may be, as well as his failure, howsoever dazzling it may be. It is a political biography of a man who roared as a tiger and also psychoanalysis of a leader who openly admired Hitler, but could not even create a strong regional party, like the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam or Telugu Desam or Akali Dal. To come to power, he had to form an alliance with the BJP, and to spread the tentacles of the Sena he had to surreptitiously take the support of the Congress.
That was a real tightrope walk. So he kept on changing his “enemies”. At the time of the birth of the organisation his target was “Madrasis”. He used to club all South Indians as “Madrasis” and for him they were all laughable “yundugundus”. He would ridicule their language and culture, their dress “lungis” and attack the Udupi restaurants. He was convinced that these people were stealing the jobs of the Marathi people.
His other staunch enemies were the “Communists”. They were traitors and were agents either of Russia or China. Within just first two years, he started breaking the Communist unions in the city of Mumbai. There is enough evidence to show that the Sena was financed, supported and politically backed by the capitalists and the ruling party. His diatribe and electoral campaign against the veteran leader V.K. Krishna Menon (former foreign minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet) was not only because he was a “Madrasi” (actually he was a Keralite, not Tamil but Malayali), but also because he was regarded as a “Communist” in the Congress. Of course, when the Shiv Sena campaigned against him in the 1967 Lok Sabha elections, he contested as an independent candidate, against the Congress. That was because of the skullduggery in the Congress Party, where the Right had taken charge and isolated Menon. The “villain” in the game was S.K. Patil, himself a senior Congress leader and minister in the Nehru Cabinet.
It is very complicated politics, in the country and also in Maharashtra, but Sujata Anandan relishes and brilliantly (also playfully sometimes) interprets the conflicting trends, which led to the rise of Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena. He became Balasaheb much later, and Hindu Hriday Samrat even later than that. In fact, he was not enamoured of the Sangh Parivar, as stated above, and used to make fun of the “chaddiwalas” and their conservative, outdated ideas. That was the legacy of his father, Prabodhankar (real name Keshav). Bal Thackeray’s father was a leader in his own right of the anti-Brahmin movement. He was an iconoclast, too. In fact, he detested religion, temples, rituals, superstitions, Brahminical practices and reactionary Hinduism. It is paradoxical, therefore, that his son would become “Hindu Hriday Samrat”.
Sujata Anandan has been able to connect many contradictory trends, integrate parallel forces, weave a pattern, which could not have been possible without identifying a unifying theme in a complex political process. She not only explores the personality and character of Balasaheb, but also the Marathi Mumbaikar’s angst and anxieties. In fact, it was that state of mind that created Shiv Sena. Notwithstanding the rowdyism and street vandalism, it has always been a fact that the Shiv Sainik was a highly motivated activist and totally devoted to the supremo.
Balasaheb’s calls for “bandh”, for boycotting Pakistani cricket teams, for openly challenging court orders restricting use of loudspeakers after 10 pm, for breaking normal law and order instructions of the police were implemented by the loyal, angry, committed but not disciplined cadre. For many years it was not possible even to make a harmless joke about his leadership or the Sena. But he carried on with his abusive and below-the-belt attacks on all those who were opposed to him or his Sena or his policies. He took full liberty to ridicule any national or local leaders through his cartoons, but any other publication which dared to draw his caricature was physically attacked. Sujata has been personally at the receiving end of this mindless ruckus.
Despite such fear psychosis that was deliberately and systematically created and maintained, Sujata continued to write what she thought was right. Yet she also managed with journalistic daring to meet and interview Balasaheb in a not very friendly atmosphere. This book is not a traditional biography of the legendary anti-hero, but a searchlight on his life and times.
Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist and chief editor of Dainik Divya Marathi