Bal Thackeray & The Rise of the Shiv Sena
Rs 350 pp 288
The Shiv Sena has inspired awe and been accused of intimidation. Much of this is thanks to the larger-than-life image of its late chief Bal Thackeray. Often derided as a group comprising misguided youngsters, the Shiv Sena did once come to power in Maharashtra in 1994.
It has also been in the saddle in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, one of the largest civic bodies in Asia, for several years now. How did Thackeray, a cartoonist at the Free Press Journal, manage to achieve what he did? Vaibhav Purandare's well-researched book provides the answers to these questions with the help of facts, figures, statistics and quotes from both, the Sena's friends and foes.
The book cites the work of researchers and authors like Mary Katzenstein, DK Lakdawala, VS Naipaul, Dipankar Gupta and others to show how the Sena's work in the slums and its ambulance service especially endeared it to people and highlights how Marathi natives did actually occupy proportionately fewer jobs when Thackeray took up the issue. It also cites several cases when the Sena didn't cast the first stone, literally or metaphorically.
For instance, it was the sudden refusal of cinema houses in Chennai to screen Hindi films in 1968 that gave Thackeray the chance to exploit the issue in Mumbai. Purandare also examines how the provocative statements of leaders like YB Chavan, the first CM of the state, who called Nehru greater than Maharashtra and opposed the idea of a unified Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital, helped the Sena strengthen its struggle.
It's interesting to note that the same Thackeray could address a poll rally for Congressman AR Antulay and get rivals George Fernandes and Sharad Pawar to join him in lambasting the Congress from Shivaji Park! Even while he did this, he was all praise for Indira Gandhi's Emergency.
As PM, she had described the Shiv Sena as a 'threat to the unity and progress of the country' but when she died, Thackeray called her a 'jewel on earth, a gift of gods, a Maha-maata!' The book notes that Thackeray had acquired cult status in Maharashtra as was clear from the millions who gathered for his funeral -- an honour that only BG Tilak and BR Ambedkar were accorded during their last journey.
If Thackeray was hero worshipped by followers, he was also a hate figure for many. But whatever their feelings, no one could ignore him for the impact he had on Mumbai, Maharashtra and the Centre. The book neither glorifies nor condemns Bal Thackeray. It demystifies him and the Shiv Sena. This makes it a book that, like its subject, cannot be ignored.
(Ranjitt C Khomne is a senior journalist and publishing professional)