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HindustanTimes Fri,26 Dec 2014

Thackeray: When he was the law

Sujata Anandan, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, November 18, 2012
First Published: 01:59 IST(18/11/2012) | Last Updated: 02:35 IST(18/11/2012)

Mumbai came to a standstill in 1993 when Bal Thackeray called for a bandh because Marathwada University in Aurangabad, 400km away from here, was renamed after Dr BR Amedkar even though the city had little to do with it.

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The Mumbai bandh was a concept created and extensively used by Bal Thackeray, who could make thousands do his bidding in a matter of minutes, without having to justify his reasons. And many a time, the reasons had little to do with the city or its welfare.

Ever since the 1970s, after Thackeray took over the city from the Communists and married the regional sentiment of the Marathi manoos to the workers' woes, he was able to bring Mumbai to a halt at a single call to arms.

The city stopped when Indira Gandhi was arrested by the Janata government of Charan Singh in 1978.

It also came to a halt when Thackeray opposed the Maharashtra government's decision to allow publication of Dr BR Ambedkar's Riddles of Hinduism in 1987.

And, of course, nothing moved when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 in far away Ayodhya - Sainiks did not need a logical reason. Thackeray's word was enough, his every wish a command to his supporters and nothing could stop them.

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As Dr Ramesh Prabhoo his personal physician from 1973 to 2004, had once told me, "Shiv Sainiks might hate the Congress, but if he [Bal Thackeray] said you have to support the Congress they would support the party, through their hatred for it. They would do it without asking Thackeray any questions.''

A fearful city would down its shutters as soon as they heard about a bandh.

In 1987, he summoned one lakh Shiv Sainiks in a day when he decided to protest the state government's publication of Dr BR Ambedkar's Riddles of Hindusim. A morcha was proposed to Mantralaya to hand over a petition to the chief minister. Although Thackeray and his Shiv Sainiks were stopped before they reached the secretariat building, the whole of Mumbai had shut down in anticipation of violence enroute. Shops voluntarily downed shutters, taxis went off the roads, a holiday was declared for schools and colleges, even when the protest ultimately proved a damp squib - the numbers were indeed there but there had been no violence.

In 1973, Bal Thackeray ignited larger nationalist sentiments among his supporters to call a bandh when Muslim corporators refused to sing Vande Mataram at the BMC. 

His propensity to call for bandhs and disrupt the functioning of the city for little reason ceased only after a Supreme Court verdict on bandhs.

The Shiv Sena was fined Rs. 20 lakh for calling a bandh against the state government in 2003. Thackeray stopped supporting bandhs by the BJP and the VHP after that and the city has never come to a total standstill ever since.


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