Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shiv Sena, Thackeray and some memories

As I turn on the TV every now and then today - the only thing I see is the 25 lakh odd people who have thronged to see Balasaheb Thackeray on his last journey. I see it on mute - since most of the commentary is unbearable. On my twitter timeline there is a certain section which is vocal in their admiration of the Shiv Sena - and another section which is vocal in their opposition to the Shiv Sena.

As a long time Mumbaikar I still retain a special place for Mumbai in my heart. After all that remains where I have spent the majority of my life. And the Shiv Sena was a large part of Mumbai. Shiv Sena was Mumbai - behind the so called spirit of Mumbai - a large hearted spirit that would stand by the city during any tragedy (and this has happened so many times - from floods to terrorist bombs to power failures) and a part of many a celebration from Ganesh Chathurthi to Govinda. And their vada pav stalls had the best vada pavs on offer.

The Shiv Sena incidentally had South Indians in their crosshairs during their formative years - yet - not once did we (and a considerable number of 'Madrasis' around us in our predominantly South Indian locality then) find ourselves in trouble. And this is the funny part. A lot of South Indians today are vocal supporters of the Shiv Sena. Why is this? The elite of Mumbai (and other parts of India) believe that the Shiv Sena is nothing but a lumpen force in Mumbai focusing on ghatis. But many in Mumbai believe that the Shiv Sena is among the good things that make Mumbai what it is.

Yes, the Shiv Sena has often indulged in violence - like ransacking offices of media or tearing a painting or two or banning a movie or book or digging up the Wankhede pitch (which I think was a service considering we intended to play against our terrorist friendly neighbour). A bandh that was not supported by the SS meant a normal day, but an SS supported bandh was an opportunity to play street cricket all day long. No other party could enforce a bandh as successfully as the SS - and people were pretty much scared to venture out - over the years, all it needed was a call for bandh and the rest would happen. .  

The Shiv Sena changed itself over the years. What started off as an anti-communist party with its roots in Marathi identity - Balasaheb was quick to spot the theme of resurgent Hinduism that broadened its appeal beyond Marathi identity politics. And this where most people believe the Shiv Sena played its part very well. I remember the 92-93 riots - after all we stayed indoors for a long time in those days watching the city from our terrace. Shiv Sena boards at shakas and other places were a source of information. And a lot of people believe that the Shiv Sena 'saved our asses' in those riots. And this where their pan-Hindu appeal widened.

And when the BJP-SS government came up in Maharashtra, they changed the face of Mumbai - with its 55 flyovers (most of which were constructed ahead of schedule), the starting of the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Post this government - all election promises in Mumbai were about development. And the way they went after the underworld in Mumbai - with the police being given a free hand to 'eliminate' gangsters in 'encounters' has remained a story that has been retold in many a movie. It is fair to say that the underworld has not recovered from that yet - though they might with the leftists going after the police officers rather than the gangsters.

They also ensured that a lot of places that the lot of places with 'English' names were named after Shivaji ( Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji museum) and the city itself became 'Mumbai' from 'Bombay'. A lot of flak was faced by the government and the SS over this, but SS stood its ground. (Much later did I realize that the opposition to renaming was as much an opposition to project the legacy of Shivaji as much an opposition to the SS - a longer story to be told for later.)

The so called liberals can rant and rave, but they dont see that the Shiv Sena is a part of Mumbai - that holds the city together. What direction it will take in future, I dont know, but I do hope it maintains its grassroots connections. So, well, as I watch Balasaheb on his last journey on TV - yes, he will remain a part of our minds. And in Mumbai, Indian and Hindu history for ever. 

5 comments:

Kishor said...

One of Pula Characters in his character sketches comments on Gandhi that he must have been a great man but I don't understand on which account should I credit his greatness. Its almost same here for me. I have complete mixed feelings. I did not liked quite a few policies diktats; most notorious being giving Sanjay Dutt a clean chit and renegotiating Enron in a flash, but surely that guy had something in him which appealed

Kishor said...

One of Pula Characters in his character sketches comments on Gandhi that he must have been a great man but I don't understand on which account should I credit his greatness. Its almost same here for me. I have complete mixed feelings. I did not liked quite a few policies diktats; most notorious being giving Sanjay Dutt a clean chit and renegotiating Enron in a flash, but surely that guy had something in him which appealed

Kishor said...

One of Pula Characters in his character sketches comments on Gandhi that he must have been a great man but I don't understand on which account should I credit his greatness. Its almost same here for me. I have complete mixed feelings. I did not liked quite a few policies diktats; most notorious being giving Sanjay Dutt a clean chit and renegotiating Enron in a flash, but surely that guy had something in him which appealed

ecophilo said...

Hmmm...on balance would be true for most ppl :-)

Jai said...

I am a long time (now non resident) mumbaikar too. To be fair to the Sena, they have been instrumental in shaping Mumbai to a large extent. What I find unbearable is their hatred of non (ethnic) maharashtrians and Muslims. Mumbai is NOT what it is today solely due to Hindu Marathis. The Gujjus, Southies and Bhaiyyas have given their sweat brains and toil to build it into the commercial capital of India.