We Indians breathe regionalism and hence regional leaders become icons. How exactly did Balasaheb Thackeray touch the heart of the “Marathi Manoos”?
The “Marathi Manoos” loves the Intellect. He loves forthrightness, courage of conviction, creativity and sarcasm! He also loves anyone who worships Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Balasaheb Thackeray was an embodiment of all these put together with an additional bonanza of possessing political acumen which he executed through his political party—Shiv Sena—the name inspired by the great Maratha King.
The “Marathi Manoos” especially during the 1960s and 70s possessed a hidden inferiority complex aptly portrayed recently by the Marathi movie “Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy”. Now, with the world having become a global village and Maharashtrians playing a big role in different professions (including the IT industry in a big way); entrepreneurship and easy availability of English school education, the level of confidence has surely shot up, but the “inferiority complex” thing still lies subconsciously hidden. Also, history lovers love to bring out the aspect of the historical animosity between the Northern and Maratha Empires that still perhaps lingers. It is these two aspects that Balasaheb used to good effect when he launched his fledgling political party, Shiv Sena, in 1966 to amplify the “Marathi Manoos” rhetoric.
The very idea that someone is taking up the cause of the locals in terms of employment and regional identity surely aroused curiosity and interest going by the five lakh Mumbaikars who were present at the first public speech of Balasaheb Thackeray at Shivaji Park in Dadar (where he was also cremated). Thereafter, besides the breaking of the leftist-socialist trade unions that dominated Mumbai then, he had already carved his place in the heart of every Maharashtrian living in and outside Maharashtra, even overseas, for the “Marathi Manoos” identity.
With a formidable network of Shiv Sena branches all over Mumbai, other cities and towns and Shiv Sainiks who were ready to obey his orders of taking law into their own hands, often with indulgence in violence and destruction of public property, Balasaheb created the “fear factor” to which even law enforcing authorities often relented. No one wants to take ‘panga’ with the Shiv Sainiks and this has led to their extortion tactics in various ways particularly in the industrial belts. Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to Balasaheb Thackeray for being ignorant on this front, the fact is, it has reached cancerous proportions today. At the other end, local level Shiv Sainiks are well connected with the aam aadmi and do address individual and community issues.
Balasaheb’s control over Mumbai with the mere raising of his hand is authoritarian in nature. Subsequently, we have seen Raj Thackeray, a natural successor of Balasaheb in terms of his firebrand personality effusing the same rhetoric with much the same style. Thus, taking law into your hands continues. Uddhav Thackeray the pronounced official successor is a great organizer but is too mild-mannered to fit into the image of the Shiv Sena associated with aggressiveness. Balasaheb was a political brand that was fiery; Raj has followed his footsteps.
However, what has happened to the Marathi Manoos in these six decades that Balasaheb Thackeray ruled? Psychologically it may have given strength to the Marathi identity and made the migrants aware that they better respect the “Karma bhoomi” (Maharashtra) but the stark reality is large scale unemployment amongst the Maharaashtrian youth, especially in urban slums. Drug and alcoholic addiction has become rampant. Laziness has set in with a harsh tone of arrogance as a livelihood, but extortion has become common practice.
Perhaps Balasaheb’s passing away might bring in the two warring cousins together considering that Uddhav’s health is not in its pinkest. If, as BJP insiders say, the coming together of the two cousins is a definite reality, the fact is, Uddhav will have to play second fiddle. Would he do that? Would Raj be magnanimous enough to share political advantage which has automatically come his way?
Whatever the future is, the question will be whether the raising of junior Thackerays’ hands are enough for Mumbai and Maharashtra to obey their command? Perhaps that era has been consigned to flames. With anti-corruption movements steered by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal wherein the awareness of good and corruption-free governance is increasing amongst citizens, it will require the Thackerays to deliver much more than just indulging in fear psychosis and the “Marathi Manoos” rhetoric. If they make themselves relevant to the times, the Marathi Manoos will still pledge by them.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)