I’m on holiday in Balasaheb Thackerayland, holed up in the rather droll West End Hotel that is bang opposite the Bombay Hospital and a stone’s throw away from the Gol Masjid. Rather non-ominously between these two institutions is the office of the Shiv Sena’s trade union wing, the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena. Hopefully, a few days here will give me a deep insight into the New Mumbai that is a lot less about Alyque Padamsee and the hamster that’s on his head, and more about the city of the man who is increasingly looking like a cross between Amitabh Bachchan and V.S. Naipaul: Balasaheb Thackeray.
Just to reassure us that he is still a nasty piece of work, Thackeray wrote an editorial last week in the Shiv Sena’s version of the New Yorker about “the need of the hour is to plant a strong bomb in Bangladeshi bastis that have mushroomed in Thane and elsewhere in Maharashtra”. Even as I clutch on to my passport and fervently hope not to mutter Bengali swear words each time I look at the prices printed on the room service drinks menu, it’s something else that Balasaheb has written that has got me thinking: the need for a Hindu suicide bomber squad to combat Muslim fundamentalism.
The Shiv Sena chief mentor was reacting to two explosions last month in Vashi and Thane reportedly directed against a Marathi play that ‘made fun’ of Hindu deities. The two organisations suspected have denied that they were behind the blasts. But it is this denial that has cheesed off Balasaheb, who has called the (thankfully ineffective) blast attempts “ridiculous and stupid”. So inside my hotel room I’ve started thinking: But can there be good (by which I mean successful) Hindu suicide bombers?
The Balasaheb’s separation of suicide bombers into ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ is really a red herring. To blow oneself up — and, for that matter, others — requires either an extreme cause or a serious chemical imbalance in the brain. You can be a Zoroastrian and have either of these qualities and be the next Freddie Fidayeen if you want to. And with no (real or made up) incentives to go straight to paradise after pressing the button, the notion of a Hindu suicide squad ready to be trained and unleashed on the face of the Earth looks rather remote.
Then there’s the track record. The first decade of the 20th century has been considered the most ‘terroristic’ in the history of India’s struggle for independence. And if one goes by inspiration, the Bengal Bombers — led by the revolutionary-turned-proto-Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Aurobindo Ghose — were the closest we ever came to Balasaheb’s ‘Hindu fidayeen squad’. Even with iconic chaps like Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki, both romanticised by Bengalis to this day — and replicated in their own heads by bomb-throwing cadres of West Bengal political parties — the record is abysmal. Between 1906 and 1908, ten ‘actions’ were undertaken by the al-Qaeda-like (non-centralised) Maniktola Secret Society. Not one was successful. Five were aborted because of failure of nerves or lack of planning; four were failures because the explosives wouldn’t work; and one killed the wrong target. Not totally unlike Balasaheb, Aurobindo Ghose — full of Garibaldi-sh notions and Hindu nationalistic-religious ideas inspired by reading Bankimchandra — wanted terrorist actions “to prepare the young men to have some sort of military training, to kill and get killed” before the imminent “open armed revolution”. It didn’t happen.
So, as far as Balasaheb’s desire to see local Hindu boys blowing themselves up into smithereens by picking up tips from the existing (?) fidayeen go, I think all this is the result of the Chief Shiv Sainik being extremely bored. As am I, too lazy to paint the town outside my hotel red, but knowing that Subhas Chandra Bose was dead right when he wrote in his ‘Prison Diaries’: “Those who are considered good boys in society are in fact nothing but eunuchs... The Bengali will never become manly unless the so-called good boys are totally uprooted from the West End Hotel.” Oh, all right. I made up that bit about the hotel.