One thing to be said about Bal Thackeray is that during his lifetime he had no overwhelming desire to name institutions after himself unlike NCP president Sharad Pawar who has some grapes named after him (Sharad Red), has a ‘Pawar’ school and wants a cricket stadium in Bombay to be named after him.
He was flattered when I suggested some years ago during a visit to Baramati where he was experimenting with mulberry that the appropriate name for the end product should be ‘Sharad Silk’. Suggestion for action, he had replied.
But now Thackeray’s heirs, who have so far failed to raise a memorial for their Sarsenapati, have named a trauma care hospital as ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ Balasaheb Thackeray Hospital.
The NCP is quite right to raise objections against the communalisation of that nomenclature and I disagree with the very basis of Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s argument that they have full right to use the title since the government has named many institutions after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
Nawab Malik, the NCP’s chief spokesperson, is quite right to point out that the equivalent of ‘Maulana’ should be ‘Pandit’ — as in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya or even Pandit Deendayal Upadhhyaya and these equivalents come from an immense learning and not a claim to any religion per se.
The equivalent of Hindu Hriday Samrat could actually be something like Shahanshah-e-dil-e-Muslimeen or something similar (Urdu scholars may forgive me for my lack of knowledge of this beautiful language which came about with a mixing of Sanskrit and Persian and endures as a subcontinental speciality).
But having said that, I can understand the Sena’s crying need to keep the title appropriated to Bal Thackeray for it was a term coined by the Sena tiger for himself in the mid-1980s when he made a paradigm shift to Hindutva at a time when even the BJP was still pussyfooting around with Gandhian socialism and was not really certain if extreme Hindutva was the way to go to maximise its advantage as a right wing political party.
The Sena is clearly under threat from Narendra Modi — in July this year its leaders made it clear that the title belonged to Bal Thackeray and they would not concede it to Modi, however much he might appear as a winner of extreme right-wing Hindu hearts. But I am not sure if naming a trauma care centre is the best way to hold on to the title.
In the past, several people have tried to appropriate that title to themselves, including, once upon a time, Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Thackeray quite hated the VHP for that. In later years, he steadfastly refused to support any of the VHP’s campaigns in Maharashtra which flopped without Shiv Sena support. This earned the Sena supremo some nasty comments from the VHP leader.
I believe one of the major stumbling blocks in the relationship between the Shiv Sena minus Bal Thackeray and BJP-led by Modi is likely to be the latter’s overwhelming personality which perhaps even a chip off the old block like Raj Thackeray might not be able to overcome. That is why Modi’s every effort to ensure a triangular alliance between the Sena, the BJP and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has not come to fruition so far.
Still, I believe, Sena leaders should have given careful thought to the naming of the hospital in such blatant fashion. I am sure there might be other means of keeping the title for their late leader without making it seem as though the trauma centre is meant only for those who worship Bal Thackeray as the emperor of Hindu hearts.
I wondered what Thackeray would have wanted had the hospital been named after him during his lifetime. Sure, he cottoned on to Hindutva far ahead of the BJP but I am sure he loved being the ‘Sarsenapati’ of them all even better. More romance to that title anyway. And isn’t it the general who usually wins the war — for the emperor?