The late Bal Thackeray, founder of the Shiv Sena, creator of the Marathi Manoos identity, unchallenged boss of Mumbai, redeemer of the marginalised middle and lower-middle class Maharashtrians of Marathis, cartoonist who loved but stopped cartooning some years ago, editor and editorial writer of his newspaper (sometimes also the star interviewee in the paper), bon vivant who made the journey from warm beer to white wine, consumer of cigars, critic of all that he purveyed, warm and genial family man, equally warm and genial friend to the who’s who of the city, was rather comprehensively represented in the media last three days since his death.
Thackeray, the admirer and life-long devotee of Adolf Hitler, self-confessed believer in dictatorship so long as it was “benevolent”, staunch advocate of strong-arm tactics to settle issues, supporter of India’s Emergency in 1975, despiser of communities other than his own in Mumbai, inspiring “General” who asked his loyal solders to not let “a single lande (a deeply pejorative term to describe Muslims) alive to give oral evidence” in communal riots, unapologetic chauvinist, fierce champion of the fascist policy of breaking bones and heads to drive home a point, protector of the wealthy and famous in the city, unabashed opponent of the Constitution of India, ridiculer of democracy and its institutions, extra-constitutional authority of India’s commercial capital, was rather under-represented in these days.
Thackeray, who in his weekly Marmik, started the campaign to give voice to then voiceless Maharashtrians by publishing list of names of employees in corporate offices and companies to prove that Maharashtrians were not getting jobs, was less represented. Even less referred to was the Thackeray, who spoke sentences such as “This (killing of CPI MLA Krishna Desai) is a warning to all Lal bhais” (Lal bhais meant Communists whose sway over working class Mumbai he had helped to break), “Gharat nahi peeth ani kashala hawe vidyapeeth?” (Why do you want a university when you don’t have enough to eat, question derogatively posed to the Dalits who campaigned to have the Marathwada University named after Dr BR Ambedkar), and “Send AA Khan (additional commissioner of police) to Allah’s home” (at the height of the 1992-93 riots for which he was severely indicted by the Srikrishna Commission)
And, Thackeray, who neatly segued Maharashtrian identity into Mumbaiite’s identity, who made the linguistic identity the only marker of being a Mumbaiite, who left little space for many to be Maharashtrian Mumbaiites without being his devotees, who subsumed the progressive, reformist, democratic Maharashtrian socio-political history into the Shiv Sena narrative that, for 46 years, revolved around turning a Maharashtrian’s grievances – real and imagined – into an ideology, was hardly represented at all.
Thackeray received eulogies, more than some Maharashtra’s heroes such as Jyotiba Phule, Gopalkrishna Gokhale, MG Ranade, Dr BR Ambedkar, SA Dange, SM Joshi, Mrinal Gore, PL Deshpande, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, Vijay Tendulkar, and many others.