One of the crowning moments for the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was during a visit to the US. “He said he had achieved his life’s ambition, he had gone to Disneyland,” said journalist Vir Sanghvi, while moderating a discussion around Sujata Anandan’s new book ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ on Monday. “I met them all,” he told Sanghvi, “Mickey, Donald, everyone.”
A man best remembered as a violence-espousing, right-wing Hindutva leader, also nursed a soft spot for Disney characters and film stars.
A complex, nuanced portrait of Thackeray emerged during a panel discussion around Hindustan Times political editor (west), Anandan’s book, on Monday at the NCPA. The book profiles the rise of the Sena in the city and the life and times of its leader.
“Most people think he was evil, an extremist, but there were shades to his character. He knew he was saying the wrong things, but it suited the politics of the day,” Anandan said.
The Sena, which held its first rally in 1966, went from nurturing the resentment of the local Marathi population, to slamming different groups, as the contexts changed. “Thackeray was very sure Hindutva was the way to go, he got there even before the BJP did,” said Anandan.
“In his heart he was whatever suited him at the time,” Sanghvi said.
Thackeray ranted against Pakistan, but embraced Javed Miandad. He started out to create a cultural organisation, and wound up nurturing a political party. He attacked Valentine’s Day and in the same breath, proudly showed visitors the bathroom pop star Michael Jackson had used in his home.
Journalist and panelist Kumar Ketkar, said, “He didn’t have any specific ideology. He wanted to be free from political dogma, because whatever he said was ideology.”
Bharatkumar Raut, journalist and Sena MP, and the fourth panellist, said, “He was not a man of isms. His only ism was Bal Thackerayism.”
“This book has succeeded in making him into a confused, loveable rogue,” said writer Anil Dharker. But the “rogue”, while championing violence, didn’t create a party with a clear ideological vision, the panel agreed.