ADITYA RAJ KAUL
| New Delhi, November 18, 2012 15:58
Bal Thackeray demise | Sunday Indian obituary | final journey | Shiv Sena supremo | Shivaji park | Mumbai mourns Balasaheb |
As I begin to pen my thoughts on Bal Thackeray, I have already been abused by a dear friend for ‘farting’, in reference to a status I posted on facebook saying "All brides are beautiful and all dead are good".The status was not exactly to mock the death of the leader, as most would have guessed. It was directed at those intellectuals and journalists who till date abused and criticized Bal Thackeray at every step but today turned into his blind followers and sang in his glory in TV studios, online platform and elsewhere.
On the other hand, I had arguments with fellow journalists too, on twitter who called Bal Thackeray a “murderer”, “terrorist” and an “intolerant beast”. They on the other hand accused me of siding with a “militant” when I said that “the great statesman would be remembered for his upfront honesty”.
Clearly, I was somewhere in the middle with my apolitical thought process. Balasaheb, without doubt has been one of the tallest leaders of Maharashtra. The political movement, Shiv Sena, which he launched in 1966, gave identity politics an entirely new direction and dimension in India. Throughout his years in politics, there was never a need for him to stage rallies in New Delhi to gain attention or knock on the doors of the power centers. Everyone, almost all with respect that he commanded, went to him.
One can’t brush away a political leader who even in his death fills the city either with fear or respect. One can’t brush away the fact that thousands are mourning his death at Matoshree, Shiv Sena Bhavan and Shivaji Park and all across Maharashtra, even though he himself never assumed a position of power. That the Maharashtra government mended rules to confer state honours at his funeral itself speaks a lot about his legacy.
Political observers and historians believe that the funeral procession can only be compared to that of Mahatma Gandhi or B.R. Ambedkar, even as intelligence agencies told The Sunday Indian that they were “prepared to handle a crowd of more than 15 lakhs around Shivaji Park”.
In his own confession, Bal Thackeray refused to accept being a politician but called himself a political cartoonist. A phenomena in itself, who supported Indira Gandhi’s draconian emergency but warned terrorists upfront in 1992 when warning was being issued against the annual Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir. Thackeray, without mincing words apparently said that he won’t allow Haj pilgrimage through Mumbai if Amarnath Yatra was targeted. The Yatra continued peacefully, so did the Haj.
It was his campaign which resulted in the colonial name of Bombay to be changed officially into Mumbai. Amitabh Bachchan may have tried to ape Bal Thackeray in the film Sarkar but it wouldn’t be dramatic to say that there may never be another leader close to Bal Thackeray in India.
Known for his campaigns against the migrants in Mumbai, especially from North India, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Thackeray however remarkably saved a community of seven lakhs in the early nineties. When told about the hardships being faced by the community who had fled terrorism in Kashmir, Thackeray who was in power in Maharashtra at that time ordered for reservation on special grounds for Kashmiri Pandits seeking seats in higher education. The policy announced by Bal Thackeray was later adopted as a policy by Government of India and issued by the HRD Ministry to several colleges and universities. It was a unique form of reservation which did not impact any other category of students; a reservation over and above the actual limit in strength of the intake of students.
As emptiness surrounds Mumbai streets in mourning, Bal Thackeray will forever remain etched in the history of Maharashtra as an iron leader who rose to limelight out of his sheer determination, humour and sarcasm. The mortal remains of Balasaheb may be confined to flames today in front of millions of his followers, but the post-Balasaheb phase is what everyone would be eagerly looking forward to at this historical occasion.
Will the millions participating in the funeral procession of Balasaheb support the separated cousins Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray forcing them to come together? It’s too early to speculate. Observers however feel that the Maharashtra politics will see a new phase in the coming days.