Police drop activist from programme after Sena threat

ALOK DESHPANDE, The Hindu, Jan 7, Mumbai

The police authorities in Maharashtra continue to surrender to the diktat of Shiv Sena, despite facing flak from all quarters over the arrest of two girls in Palghar a month ago.

This time, the police authorities have dropped a speaker from their programme, after the Sena warned her against entering Chiplun, a town in Ratnagiri district, where the event is scheduled to be held.

In the backdrop of the gang rape in Delhi, the Chiplun police authorities have arranged a special programme for girls and women in the city on January 8. The authorities had invited Pushpa Bhave, a senior social worker, author and prominent activist working on gender issues and women’s rights in Maharashtra.

Chiplun will also host the annual Marathi literary meet from January 11 and the podium has been named after Sena chief Bal Thackeray. On Saturday, Ms. Bhave criticised the organisers of the festival for naming the podium after Thackeray, who, she said had ‘insulted’ many Marathi authors in the past and was not a writer.

“My point was very simple. I opposed the podium being named after him. He has insulted many great Marathi authors in extremely low level language. The podium is always named after someone who has done great service to literature, which he hasn’t done. Hence I opposed it,” Ms. Bhave told The Hindu.

Irked by her opposition, the local unit of Sena declared that the party would not allow her inside Chiplun city. The local leaders took a mob of around 200 activists to the police station and pressured them to cancel her part in the programme.

“Instead of letting the issue heat up, we cancelled her part,” Uttam Jagdale, police inspector at the Chiplun station told The Hindu over telephone. “We try to maintain good relations with all political parties. We did what we thought was best,” he said.

The Sena leaders praised the authorities for removing her from the programme. “Even they knew that if she had come here, the situation could have worsened,” said Bala Kadam, the Chiplun city unit chief of the Sena. “Nobody should speak against Balasaheb. That lady [Ms. Bhave] was doing this for publicity, but we won’t let her do it at the expense of our late leader,” said Mr. Kadam.

Ms. Bhave expressed no surprise at the police action. “This is what we have been seeing all these years… Sena does not believe in discussion and criticism in democracy,” she said.


Bal Thackeray ruled Mumbai like no other, he also divided the city like no other

King Toon Thackeray ruled Mumbai like no other. He also divided the city like no other.
Tooth And Claw
Whoever Thackeray or the Sena clawed, bled, be they south Indians, north Indians, Leftists, Dalits, artists and Muslims
Prachi Pinglay-Plumber

The cover of Bal Keshav Thackeray’s book of cartoons, Fatkare (literally ‘strokes’ but could mean whacks too!), has a tiger paw tearing up a bloody red background. A telling image if there ever was one. Whoever he or the Shiv Sena clawed, bled. Even before the Sena was launched, he had made his politics clear—rule of law was secondary to the notion of fighting for the pride of the Bhoomiputra (sons of the soil). The Sena has targeted south Indians, north Indians, Leftists, Dalits, artists and Muslims in different—and at times simultaneous—phases in the past 45 years. In each campaign, they also managed to marginalise a section of the victims, and make a lasting impact on Mumbai’s very nature. Interviews by Prachi Pinglay-Plumber.

South Indians

K.K. Ganapathy had a leather business in the 1960s. The retired businessman was a victim of  the Sena’s ’60s anti-Madrasi campaign.

“They attacked me, ripped off my dhoti…it was part of the  ‘bhagao lungi’ campaign.”

K.K. Ganapathy, 85

I had briefly known Thackeray when he was with the Free Press Journal. He was an ordinary man then. But I lost touch with him after that. I had even attended some of his speeches. He was very dogged on the issue of Marathi pride and Maharashtrians. Later on, people told him about how south Indians were occupying important positions in P&T, banking, BARC etc. Which is when he started his campaigns against us. They didn’t factor in the fact that the south Indians were getting these jobs because they were well educated. Anyway, once I was walking to the Portuguese church in Dadar when some Sena activists attacked me and ripped off my dhoti. At the time they were running a campaign against south Indians wearing lungis/mundus.  (The Sena had launched a vicious campaign, “Bajao pungi, bhagao lungi”, basically targeting Tamilians, Malayalis and the Shetty community running the Udupi restaurants in Bombay.) A friend staying with me who didn’t know Marathi was also attacked near my residence in Worli. He wanted to file a police complaint, but I told him there was no point.

My next encounter with the Sena was in the late 1960s when I had started a leather business with an office at Nana Chowk. I had kept a north Indian as our office peon. A few days later, some Sena workers came and threatened me, asking why I was not employing Marathis. I told them my peon was a hard worker, and it wasn’t about where he was from. They asked me to keep two of their people. I tried to argue but eventually relented and kept one of them. He used to ask for increments every two months and even threatened me as well. Later, others from the party came around and threatened that they would shut down my office.

Eventually, I wrote a letter to Balasaheb explaining the situation to him. I asked that he stop his men from attacking and threatening me. I don’t know whether it was because of the letter but after a few days I got a call from some Sena people and they said they would not bother me anymore.


Tariq Wagle, 62, and Farooq Mapkar, 46, victims of the 1992-93 Bombay riots

“My 17-year-old son was shot dead. I don’t know how I should feel about Thackeray’s death.”

Tariq Wagle, 62

My son was shot at point blank range by a policeman during the riots. He was just 17 years old. It’s too painful to talk about it. Even the Srikrishna Commission recommended investigation in the incident against the policemen. Since then, I don’t know how many complaints and reports I have filed to anyone and everyone who could help. We have been complaining but so far nothing has happened. What if the cases don’t stand in court? End of the day, all this will be of any consequence only if the courts uphold it. What is the use of me narrating it before you? I am 62 now. But we are still trying. My wife is also with me in this. I don’t know how I feel about Thackeray’s death. I know one thing—that I will fight for justice for my son till I can. How can I give up? I can’t, I won’t.

Farooq Mapkar, 46

During the riots, we saw the police firing at Hari masjid. I was shot at too. People were inside the masjid when the police fired at Muslims and even arrested some (including me). When they were carrying me to the police station, the Sainiks were standing around abusing us. At the Srikrishna Commission, MLAs had given statements indicting Thackeray, saying he had called them and ordered them to get Muslims killed. Later on, even the Mahanagar newspaper office was attacked. But nothing came of those depositions and submissions. He was never tried. No one was punished. My grievance is that the government helped them. It’s this ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’ thing. Although the Sena influence is waning, the government always takes them along because they don’t want trouble.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s grandson was a first-hand witness to many Dalit-Shiv Sena clashes in ’70s-80s

“The Sena-Dalit Panthers fights were very violent.”

Prakash Ambedkar, 58

Bal Thackeray opposed different people and communities at different stages—starting with writer and activist Acharya Atre (he drew a cartoon of a pig and called it Atre). That antagonism remained his plank till the end. In the 1970s, the fight was between the Dalit Panthers and Shiv Sena on issues like reservations and the atrocities on Dalits. In the early 1970s, incidents like Bhagwat Jadhav’s death, the Worli riots etc had a major impact on the city. The fights were violent with people using knives, stones etc. Thackeray openly said that Dalit houses should be burnt down. But one must understand that they were supported by the Congress. They took a stand that Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s book, Riddles in Hinduism, should not be published. It was a bad struggle and finally we had to reach some compromise. Mumbai was tense for almost four months and I met Thackeray during those days. We told him we have to end this; otherwise it would go out of control from our side. There was a risk of uncontrolled violence and thousands would have died. Chhagan Bhujbal was the main troublemaker. I don’t believe Thackeray left behind any legacy. He was always pro-capitalist. What did he do for the Marathi people when the Sena controlled the bmc? Contracts were always given to non-Marathis. In this country, the Hindutva vote will always count for something. The pseudo-Hindutva followers, unsure about themselves and feeling threatened by the other, will always support his sort of politics. Thackeray flourished because of this mentality.

Trade Unions
Former trade union member Bajaj was in the front row as the Sena railroaded the labour movement

“I remember getting beaten up by them, but it was still us who landed up in jail.”

K.L. Bajaj, 75

Frankly, when Thackeray started out, we never thought he would become so big. Most of the unions were left-oriented and each union had a four-tier democratic set-up. We used to get workers’ demands sorted through negotiations, strikes and talks. All that changed after the Shiv Sena came on the scene. Before Thackeray, there had been a Borkardada, who had tried to break the unions but he did not succeed. So we assumed it was just another one of those blackleg attempts. However, Thackeray came up with something no one had imagined before—the concept of the ‘Marathi Manoos’. He attracted the lower classes, uniting large sections of the Marathis, for he spoke their language, even had their mannerisms. Unemployment levels were anyway high, and the disgruntled youth joined Thackeray in droves. (The high class, upper-caste Marathi people anyway had their own allegiances.)

It was also a bad time for industries. If a worker loses confidence in the strike, then it is easy to break him or draw him to the other side. That is what the Shiv Sena succeeding in doing. But of the 2,75,000 people who lost their jobs when the factories shut down, 95 per cent were Marathi. What did the Sena do for them? And every time our workers lost jobs owing to the strikes, Sena men would be hired in their place. They were not good workers like ours, but they had the support of the managements.

Often, when we would be protesting or striking, the Shiv Sena men would come in vehicles, followed by a police vehicle, and disrupt the strike. I remember getting beaten up by them, but it was still us who ended up in jail. Often, we were detained randomly. As it is, the Communists were looked upon with suspicion those days, for it was after 1962, when we had lost the war against China. We were in jail for 2-4 months but the Sena workers always got away scot-free. The fights were always very violent, but that was how things were at that time.

Things changed for the worse after union leader and CPI MLA Krishna Desai’s murder. I knew him personally, he had a huge following. However, nothing came of the case, though the people who were arrested were said to be Sainiks. People think Balasaheb did all this single-handedly, which is not true. The party had the support of the state administration, police, the Congress party and the goondas. The managements provided money for the party activities. In fact, I remember him telling the workers, “Tata, Birla hamare anna data hai,” which proves that he was never once opposed to the management.

I agree that he caught the imagination of the Marathi people, that he came to be their representative but what did his campaign or party achieve? From thousands of mills and factories, now Mumbai has a handful of factories that employ some 1,000-plus workers. How did that help anyone?

A north Indian bhelpuri seller, Manoj was a victim of Sena breakaway MNS’s goons

“I can still feel the shame and sting of that slap. Sometimes I think about it, and I feel humiliated.”

Manoj, 45

If the attack on us bhaiyyas happens again, I am prepared. I will not run away from this city but I will also not be foolish enough not to hide. Last time, when the MNS decided to attack north Indians, I was out in the streets. I thought they wouldn’t attack me. I was in Borivili going towards my usual spot on the main road to set up my stall. Suddenly out of nowhere a big group of men arrived, asked me what I was doing there. One of them asked me, “You don’t know you are not supposed to be here? Aren’t you a bhaiyya?” Even before he had finished speaking, another man slapped me. I can still feel the sting of that slap. Sometimes when I think about it, I still feel humiliated. But I try not to think about it. The past few years have been peaceful and I don’t think a thing like that can happen again. I just put my head down and do my work. There’s no point trying to prove anything. We have to feed our families. My parents, children, siblings are all dependent on me. There isn’t enough work back home to feed everyone. My brother has gone to Fatehpur (UP). He was beaten up twice during his stay here. He got scared and ran away. I told him that things would change in some time. But the second time he was beaten up even after paying protection money by boys from the same outfit. Once that happened, he was convinced nothing could save him. He took a train back home. There were no tickets available, yet he boarded one and went back for good. He’s scared of Mumbai and says he never coming back.

A lot of people I know went back home during that time. In Borivili, there were many from my state who pay money to the MNS to allow them to continue working in Mumbai. The whole air had been poisoned. There’s fear and it’s made us watchful and wary. I will not trust anything I am told here ever again. Last week, when Balasaheb passed away, I stayed at home. So did most of my friends. It’s better to be careful.

Lest We Forget
The violent legacy of Thackeray that neither the crowds nor the TV adulation can hide

  • October 30, 1966 Thackeray’s first Dusshera rally. A mob leaves the rally later to attack and burn south Indian shops and restaurants. The rally was also addressed by Congress leader Ramrao Adik. Attacks on south Indians were with the backing of CM Vasantrao Naik.
  • Mumbai 1968 Hindi films brought out by south Indian producers are stopped by Thackeray’s Shiv Sainiks.
  • February 1969 Thackeray unleashes his goons against Kannadigas. 59 dead, 274 wounded, 151 cops injured in week of riots.
  • June 6, 1970 CPI MLA and trade unionist Krishna Desai murdered in first political assassination in the city since 1947.
  • January 1974 Dalit Panther leader Bhagwat Jadhav brutally killed by Thackeray’s men, sparks off war with Dalits.
  • 1975-76 Thackeray shocks colleagues, praises Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency. By 1977, changes tack.
  • Jan 1982 Thackeray supports Congress in Great Textile Strike. Breaks ties under duress, goes back three years later.
  • From 1984 Shiv Sena carries out attacks on Dalit farmers in Vidarbha and Marathwada, destroying crops, burning huts.
  • 1985 Thackeray calls for expulsion of ‘outsiders’, proposes 1972 as cut-off date for having moved to Maharashtra.
  • 1985 Cong CM Vasantdada Patil connives to help Shiv Sena win BMC polls with ‘Bombay part of Maharashtra’ issue.
  • March 1988 The wonderful “saviour of Sikhs” Thackeray calls for a boycott of Sikh businesses in Maharashtra.
  • 1988 Thackeray’s ‘boycott of Sikhs businesses’ idea is quietly abandoned after extorting crores from Sikhs in Mumbai.
  • Post 1989 + Mandal riots Thackeray finds a more convenient target for his political purposes: Indian Muslims.
  • October 1991 Thackeray’s thugs attack journalists, fracturing one woman’s (Manimala) skull with a crowbar.
  • 1991 Thackeray takes it one step further, threatens a local judge who had ruled against his goons with blinding.
  • 1991 Thackeray’s Dopahar ka Saamna editorial very sweetly compares women journalists to prostitutes.
  • 1995 Thackeray: “If they have their Dawood, then we have our Arun Gawli.” Because all politicos need a personal mafia.
  • July 1996 The Ramesh Kini murder after long term intimidation. SS-BJP state govt tries to bury investigation.
  • 1997 Kini’s wife accuses Raj Thackeray of his murder. HC asked CBI to investigate but Mumbai police destroys evidence.
  • July 11, 1997 Ten Dalits are killed and over 30 wounded at the Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar massacre. None were armed.
  • Republic Day, 1997 Two adivasi youths murdered. Adivasi women sexually assaulted by police and SS workers at Talasari.
  • Late 1990s SS-BJP goverment summarily withdraws over 1,100 cases of atrocities against Dalits in Marathwada.

Bal Thackeray– A Politics of Violence

Vol – XLVII No. 47-48, December 01, 2012 | Jyoti Punwani: EPW

Bal Thackeray, the son of an anti-caste reformist, came from a background rich in learning and culture. Yet, he chose to use his learning and wit to destroy rather than create. Under his direction, the Sena resorted to intimidation and terror, first against south Indians, then communists and Muslims.

Jyoti Punwani (jyoti.punwani@gmail.com) is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist and human rights activist.

It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon on a sleepy road with people, desultorily going about their routine. Suddenly, the scene changed. Women pleaded with vegetable vendors who were hurriedly shutting shop; people ran after buses, autorickshaws fled. It reminded you of scenes shown in Hitler movies, of Jews out on a peaceful street when they suddenly hear the sound of a Nazi patrol approaching. It was as if a malevolent spirit had descended like an ominous cloud.

Bal Thackeray’s death had just been reported in his city.

Thackeray would have been proud that in death, as in life, he generated fear among ordinary citizens going about their normal lives. He would have praised his “boys” for vandalising a hospital because the owner’s niece commented on Facebook that the city need not have shut down for his funeral. As the girl in question realised, there was nothing anyone could do when faced with the wrath of a Shiv Sainik mob. For the leader of the Shiv Sena was also the “Saheb” of those paid to protect you from Sena bullies. So it was but natural for the police to haul her to the police station. The Mumbai police’s advice to citizens not to step out on the day of Thackeray’s funeral was not surprising. It was not their job to ensure that the city went about its work as normal. It was their job to facilitate the Sena supremo’s grand funeral.

This advice from the Mumbai police was in line with the advice some of them gave to Muslims during the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots of December 1992 – January 1993. “We made sure they left the area safely”, many of them proudly told the B N Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the riots. They did not think it their duty to protect Muslims from Shiv Sainiks. They just wanted them out of harm’s way so that they could sit back as Sainiks looted and burnt the Muslims’ homes at will. That was a deed to be proud of, indeed, considering the number of policemen found by the Commission to have actively encouraged the Shiv Sainiks to riot, or to have looked the other way as they killed defenceless Muslims.

1984 Riots Pave the Way

Early on, in 1984, just before Mumbai saw its first major post-Independence Hindu-Muslim riot, Bal Thackeray had told the city’s police force to take a leaf out of their Punjab counterparts. The latter, he had said in a speech at Chowpatty that acted as the trigger for the riots, supported “anti-national Khalistanis”. He went on to say, “Here you should at least not arrest your own people when they are fighting traitors”. In the fortnight of violence that engulfed the city and its outskirts soon after the speech, the police followed his advice. 1984 was when Mumbai’s Muslims, appealing to the police for help from Shiv Sainiks, heard for the first time, the phrase that would define the police’s relationship with Bal Thackeray: “We are Shiv Sainiks under our uniforms.” Official confirmation of this relationship came in the form of a circular issued by the city’s tough police commissioner, Julio Rebeiro, wherein he asked: “I want to know who is ruling this city – the administration or the Shiv Sena? When orders were given clearly to use force and beat the Shiv Sainiks who are going around ordering shops to close, the local police failed to do so’’ (Indian Express, 30 June 1984).

The 1984 riots were not one-sided. Apart from two Urdu newspapers which inflamed passions by deliberately mis­reporting Thackeray’s speech, there was the Congress-I Muslim MLA who garlanded Thackeray’s bust with slippers in Parbhani. On the ground too, Muslims in Bhiwandi and Govandi, to name just two areas, were the aggressors, and in areas such as Nagpada and Dongri, they did retaliate.

But the case of Thane during the 1984 riots was revealing of the way the Shiv Sena operates when it is in control. A local Bharatiya Janata Party leader told this reporter after the riots that of the 57 persons killed in Thane, 55 had been Muslims, and two others had been killed for sheltering Muslims. There was no retaliation by Muslims in Thane. As the former Sena mayor and later Member of Parliament put it: Thokaichey hotey, thokle (we decided to hammer them and we did). Even Muslim Shiv Sainiks, as well as those old-timers who were so integrated with their Marathi-speaking neighbours that you could not tell them apart, were not spared.

Thane had been the Sena’s early triumph – it emerged as the single largest party in the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) in 1967 itself, a year after the party was launched, and controlled the TMC from 1974 to 1981. The 1984 riots paved the way for the Sena’s triumphant entry into Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation the next year. In this it was helped generously by the then Congress chief minister (CM) Vasantdada Patil’s mischievous announcement that the centre (ruled by his own party) was planning to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra, a possibility he knew did not exist. After the 1984 riots that claimed 258 lives, Patil refused to prosecute Thackeray for his Chowpatty speech, saying that Thackeray had denied making any derogatory remarks against prophet Mohammed. He also rejected the demand for a judicial inquiry into the riots. He did, however, arrest shakha pramukh Madhukar Sarpotdar under the National Security Act, as well as underworld leaders Haji Mastan and Karim Lala. All three were freed after the Sena helped the Congress elect its nominee as the speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Council a few days after the riots.

Blatant Abuse of Muslims

The 1984 riots displayed all the characteristics that came to be associated with Bal Thackeray and his party – Muslim baiting, violence against Muslims, the Mumbai police’s Sena bias, and the Congress-Sena nexus. All this was seen on a much larger scale in the 1992-93 riots, for the January phase of which the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission indicted Thackeray with the words, “like a veteran general, (he) commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims”. These attacks were not just the conventional looting and burning of property or stabbing to death. In January 1993, Shiv Sainiks were charged with stripping, burning and mutilating Muslim women, stoning unarmed Muslim men to death, and then burning their bodies to chants of “Jai Sri Ram”. Eyewitnesses told the Srikrishna Commission that they did not spare even handicapped boys. After all this, they got the best Sena lawyers to defend them.

There was one more difference between 1984 and 1992 – Thackeray’s abuse against Muslims no longer needed confirmation or denial by him. It was all there in his newspaper Saamna, which he had launched in 1989. Editorial after editorial in Saamna castigated Muslims as fanatic traitors, residing in “mohallas in which flowed streams of treason and poison”. The community constituted one of Pakistan’s “seven atom bombs placed in Hindustan”. One editorial asked the corpses of Hindus to come alive to “tell us, from which mosque was a bomb thrown at you? Which fanatic traitor aimed his stengun at you?” The news pages of Saamna celebrated the burning of mosques by “patriotic youth in this dharmyuddh, mosques which have become store houses of unauthorised arms”. Saamna, Thackeray said later, provided the “spark that lit the fire of patriotism which kept the country, god and religion alive”.

Yet, the Congress government took no action except to send the editorials to the Press Council, a toothless body! On a petition filed by two citizens, two judges of the Bombay High Court ruled these editorials to be unobjectionable, since they criticised only anti-national Muslims, not the entire community. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal against this judgment without going into its merits.

To be fair, the judiciary was not always kind to Bal Thackeray. In 1997, he, then the remote control of the Sena-BJP ruling alliance in Maharashtra, was forced to appear in person before a magistrate and apply for bail as prime accused for instigating Shiv Sainiks to attack reporters in 1991. In 1999, he was barred from voting or standing for election by the Supreme Court, which upheld a Bombay High Court order finding him guilty of having canvassed for his candidate on the basis of religion in the 1987 assembly elections. It made little difference to him – he had never wanted to stand for election anyway, preferring to be the “remote control” of the party rather than be accountable by holding a public office.

Contempt for the Law

Thackeray’s attitude towards the judiciary was consistent with his attitude towards the law, democracy, and the Constitution – an attitude of open contempt. It is hardly surprising that most of his corporators and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) had criminal cases registered against them, involving charges not just of rioting and assaulting public servants, but also of extortion, kidnapping, and murder. A tape recording of the 1988 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) mayor, Diwakar Raote, had him expressing displeasure at the meagre amount of Rs 5,000 each offered to him by Gujarati traders, and boasting that to save their lives, “I have slaughtered Muslims taking the sword in my hand… In one riot, we have slaughtered 300-350 Muslims”. No action was taken against Raote by the then CM Sharad Pawar, and Raote is now a Sena Member of the Legislative Council (MLC). The man he appointed as CM, Narayan Rane, according to police claims, started off life as a part of the “Narya-Varya’’ gang in Chembur, and had a murder case against him when he became CM. Rane is now the Congress’ industries minister in Maharashtra.

Thackeray’s contempt for the law and democracy has not arisen from any long and bitter fight through constitutional means against an unjust system. He had no patience with legal means from the word go. That was the reason for his instant popularity with the Marathi-speaking restless youth who found themselves on the sidelines of the wealth that was being generated in Mumbai in the 1960s. The new capital of the new state of Maharashtra was then the most industrialised city in India, attracting the most investment from around the country. But those who controlled it were mostly non-Marathi-speaking people, belonging to communities that had always been a part of the city. Thackeray directed the aspirations of Marathi-speaking youth against these other communities. He became their godfather, in every sense of the term. His fiery speeches and writings in his weekly Marmik drew them like a magnet to his ideology: hatred against others who have deprived you of what is yours, and snatching it from them by any means. At the same time as they put this into practice, the Shiv Sainiks through their shakhas across the city also solved problems such as water supply, and raided shops of hoarders when prices of foodgrains skyrocketed.

Terror Tactics

The Sena’s first rally was in 1966 in Shivaji Park. On their way out, the rallyists attacked an Udipi restaurant, marking the start of the Sena’s terror tactics. In 1967, alongside south Indians, communists became a target. Shiv Sainiks attacked the Communist Party of India’s (CPI) office in the working class area of Parel, and violently engineered splits in CPI unions. In 1970, they killed the CPI’s sitting MLA from Parel, Krishna Desai.

For Thackeray, leftists were anti-national. Four months later, backed by the Jan Sangh, the Swatantra Party, the Congress (O) and the Hindu Mahasabha, the Sena’s Wamanrao Mahadik won the by-election to become the party’s first MLA. Addressing the party’s victory rally, Thackeray said: “This is our dharmyudh. It is the Shiv Sena’s aim to destroy all those who are not loyal to the nation…Our victory is the victory of Hindutva’’ (Vaibhav Purandare, The Sena Story, Mumbai, 1999). Twenty-two years later, Thackeray exhorted Saamna readers with the same phrases during the Ayodhya campaign and the riots that followed the Babri Masjid demolition. This time, the dharmyudh was against a different set of anti-nationals.

But Muslims had always been anathema for Thackeray. As far back as 1970, the Sena was indicted by the Justice D P Madon Commission of Inquiry for its role in the Bhiwandi riots. It is just that unlike south Indians, Muslims remained his target till the very end. In 1972, Thackeray set up his Sthaniya Lok AdhikaSamitis (local people’s rights committees) in banks and government offices, and began ensuring jobs for Marathi-speaking youth. His formidable clout forced the Congress government to issue a directive to all employers in 1973 that 60% of managerial jobs and 90% of other lower category jobs in Mumbai be given to those domiciled in Maharashtra for 15 years. There was no need after that to target the yundugundus, as he described south Indians.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric – he called Muslims landyas and “green serpents” – and violence were intrinsic to the growth of the Sena. If the 1984 riots helped Thackeray capture the BMC, similar riots helped the party capture parts of Maharashtra through the latter half of the 1980s. Vaibhav Purandare’s The Sena Story details how every new city that was captured saw riots taking place: Nashik, Amravati, Nanded, Aurangabad (renamed Sambhaji Nagar when the Sena came to power in 1995). Finally, the 1992-93 riots helped the Sena capture the state in 1995.

But Thackeray’s hatred for Muslims as pro-Pakistani traitors did not come in the way of him embracing the party that still retained the name Muslim League. After the Bhiwandi riots in 1970, the Sena negotiated the presidentship of the Bhiwandi municipality with the township’s Muslim League. Both Sudhir Joshi and Manohar Joshi became mayors in the BMC with Muslim League help, the first immediately after Sena-League riots had claimed five lives in 1973. Sudhir Joshi’s victory procession was led by Thackeray and League president G M Banatwala. After the Sena took over the BMC in 1985, the Muslim League came to the Sena’s rescue whenever voting on crucial issues took place, in return for posts in important committees.

Thakri Bhasha

Alongside Muslims, Ambedkarite dalits, who rejected Hinduism and were only too conscious of their rights, made Thackeray see red. When the Dalit Panthers were formed in 1972, their first clashes were with Shiv Sainiks in Worli’s BDD chawls. In 1987, the Sena campaigned against the inclusion of the chapter “Riddles in Hinduism” in the state government’s compilation of Ambedkar’s writings and speeches. Sena leader Chhagan Bhujbal even bathed the Flora Fountain monument with gangajal after a huge dalit rally was held there on the issue.

Thackeray was the only one to openly oppose the renaming of Marathwada University as Ambedkar University, and throughout the long namantar agitation, Shiv Sainiks attacked dalits in Marath­wada, burning their homes, desecrating Buddhist temples and Ambedkar statues. Many of the “minor” cases registered against them under the Prevention of Atrocities Act were withdrawn by Sharad Pawar after the university was renamed in January 1994. The next year, when the Sena came to power, CM Manohar Joshi withdrew more such cases.

It is this licence given by successive governments in Maharashtra that encouraged the “Tiger” to roar and maul as he pleased. In 1988, he called a press conference at which Sikh leaders of Mumbai were summoned and threatened with an economic boycott if they did not get their religious leaders in Punjab to issue a directive against Khalistanis. His “roars” have been delivered in what his admirers describe as Thakri bhasha. The most creative use of this bhasha has been against women. Veteran socialist Mrinal Gore, who refused to enter into an alliance with him till the bitter end of her political career was described as “Goregaon’s buffalo”, and Janata Dal president V P Singh’s paayachidasi (meaning slave/mistress). Professor Pushpa Bhave was called a “stale nankathai” and referred to as bhavini (devdasi or prostitute) when she exhorted the terrified residents of Vasai to stand up to the “two faces of fascism – (Bhai) Thakur [a well-known don] and Thackeray”. Writing about CPI(Marxist) leader Ahilya Rangnekar and trade unionist Pushpa Mehta, Thackeray wondered how they were so active despite their “menstrual rags having long dried up”. Feminist writer Vidya Bal was described as the “hijra” of the women’s liberation movement.

Such was the man now being described as having ruled over the hearts of three generations of Shiv Sainiks for 46 years. That is untrue. Like any party, the Shiv Sena had its highs and lows. After a spectacular start in 1966, with the city burning for four days after he was arrested in 1969 (over the border row with Karnataka), the decade 1974-84 saw a low, as Thackeray disillusioned his followers by supporting Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. His workers supported Datta Samant despite their supremo’s opposition to the textile strike led by Samant. The 1984 riots helped him bounce back, but he lost control over the BMC in 1992, only to return with the 1992-93 riots.

The next stage of disillusionment came ironically, when he was in charge of the state. When the BJP-Sena wrested power from Sharad Pawar’s Congress in early 1995, the reaction among most Marathi-speaking people, cutting across classes and castes, was “our people are in power now”. By the end of their rule in 1999, voters had realised that Shiv Shahi was no different from Congress rule. Since then, the Sena has been kept out, thanks to his nephew Raj Thackeray forming his own party.

Five-Year Rule

However, his five-year rule deserves attention. Coming as it did two years after the 1992-93 riots where he played a leading role, the Sena-BJP rule started off as hell for Muslims. His government scrapped the state minorities’ commission and the Urdu academy. After Saamna received a call threatening to kill Thackeray from someone claiming to be a Bangladeshi, the Sena chief threatened that the entire Muslim community would be wiped out. The Sena-BJP government passed an anti-bigamy bill and also a bill prohibiting the slaughter of cow progeny.

But Thackeray’s government also fulfilled many long-standing demands of Muslims which the Congress had never cared to, including increasing the floor space index (FSI) for mosques. The community found Sena MLAs, even those who had been in the forefront of the riots, more approachable than Congress MLAs had ever been. Also, the five-year reign of the Sena-BJP saw just one minor riot which was controlled within 48 hours. Today, a similar situation exists as did in 1995. Muslims are fed up with the Congress, especially because of the continuous targeting of its youth on terror charges. A section of them want to teach the Congress a lesson and give the Sena another chance.

However, the Sena-BJP regime established Thackeray as the ultimate censor. Even after he lost power, nervous directors would show him their films if they felt anything in their content could annoy him. Only those with a hotline to the centre could dare to have their films run despite his disapproval, as Shah Rukh Khan did with his My Name Is Khan in 2010.

Ugly and Impoverished

Bal Thackeray, like many other Marathi-speaking politicians, came from a background rich in learning and culture. In addition to being exposed to literature, music and drama, he had the advantage of being the son of an anti-caste reformist. Yet, he chose to use his learning and wit to destroy rather than create. He debased the Marathi language when he could have enriched it. As a sophisticated Marathi-speaking orator, he could have used his power over his followers to turn Mumbai, already a flourishing cosmopolitan city, into one of the world’s great metropolises. He chose to render it ugly and impoverished.

Bal Thackeray, or, Why the Communists Did Nothing

November 22, 2012

by Saroj Giri, Sanhati

Right where Bal Thackeray was cremated, at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, another event had taken place in June 1970: “a twenty-five-thousand-strong funeral procession marched to Shivaji Park, the Sena stronghold, shouting anti-Shiv Sena slogans,” reports Gyan Prakash in his Mumbai Fables (Princeton University Press, 2010, p. 247). The reason: the murder of Krishna Desai by the Sena in June 5, 1970. Bal Thackeray was supposed to be directly involved in it.

Desai was the sitting Communist Party of India (CPI) MLA from central Bombay, a popular and militant working class leader. He was also one of those who went beyond the diktats of the official CPI leadership, which discouraged self-defence and direct action and could not integrate them in its overall political strategy. That evening of the day he was murdered, it is told that thousands of workers spontaneously came out to avenge the murder. This could have meant they would have ‘liquidated’ Bal Thackeray and his cohorts.

Of course given the leadership’s ‘rule of law’ approach, this was not to happen: the angry workers were told to disperse and the Hriday samrat was born. Thackeray went to town boasting about the murder, promising to carry out more such ‘actions’. Seeing that their leaders can be murdered and nothing happens to the murderer, workers loose morale and think that the communists are not serious about defending their interests. So that when Desai’s widow Sarojini Desai contests in the elections, even a sympathy wave for her dead husband who was a hero for the workers does not fetch her victory. The tide turned: the Sena wins, gets its first legislator from the jaws of communist hold. Large sections of the workers ‘go with the winner’, while the loser, the communists, increasingly fail to resist and retaliate and try to foolishly seek protection of the law and courts.

Earlier, “on September 10, 1967, Thackeray declared in Marmik that his object was the ‘emasculation of the Communists.’ Three months later, the Sena activists attacked the CPI’s Dalvi Building office in Parel. They burned files and threw out the furniture. It was an audacious attack, brazenly carried out to strike at the very heart of the enemy. What was the Communist response? Nothing.” (Prakash, p. 242)

It is out of this ‘nothing’, that void left by the communist leadership, against the will of militant workers, that Thackeray and the Shiv Sena come to life.

And yet today the progressives do not want to ask ‘why was the communist’s response ‘nothing’’. Instead they are busy pointing out Thackeray’s overt qualities, qualities that were anyways meant for public consumption and moreover, for the Sena, proud display. We are told that he epitomised the politics of fear and hatred, how he was a fascist and communal and divisive and so on. There is over-reliance on this kind of a ‘politics of exposure’, which is merely old rehashed wisdom about the Sena and Thackeray. Such hollering is done so seriously that one forgets that it alone changes nothing, does not weaken the Sena, nor even expose it. Nor does it shame the Indian state and security apparatus to now become an ally in your anti-communal or anti-fascist struggle.

The ‘politics of exposure’ is moreover part of a tendency to then present Thackeray as just a mad crazy exception, whom we just need to ‘expose’ and soon the rest of ‘democratic society’ and civil society will shun him to hell. The hollering invests the political atmosphere with such illusions. After all, it is not that the workers who joined the Sena did so since they found the organization ‘democratic’ and upholding the rule of law. Nor will they now leave it since they have finally found that it is ‘fascist’, a gang of thugs etc.

Above all, this hollering tends to make us forget that Thackeray emerges as a tacit ruling class response to a particular conjuncture of the class struggle in Mumbai. So let us instead ask: what could the Indian state and big capital have done when they were faced with the kind of ‘enemy’ like the organised communist working class power which had Bombay in its grips in the 1960s? The Indian state is, officially speaking, bound one way or another by its secularism, labour laws and things like that – which is all fine and creates no real hassles for the ruling classes so long as you have a decrepit left but not fine if you are confronted by a powerful working class movement. The movement was so powerful that even the CPI leadership, given the illusions it had about Indian democracy, feared its most militant sections and power.

Hence to deal with this communist monster you needed a force to ensure two (contradictory) things at the same time. First, decimate or liquidate the working class movement. Second, to maintain, at the same time, the garb of democracy, secularism, and so on. A banana republic or a Pinochet would have concentrated only on the first but here you had the ‘idea of India’ too which had to be uphailed – and to which even sections of CPI leadership not to speak of other progressives and ‘left-liberals’ were deeply attached.

An extra legal force like the Sena was exactly what fitted the bill. Not the right wing vigilante armed gangs cut off from the society to be found in Latin America but one which would have a deep organic connect to ‘society’. Hindutva and the populism of the Marathi manoos ensured this connect. A cross between a vigilante and a grass roots populist movement. Put it this way: Thackeray and the Sena were something like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) emerging from within the underbelly of majoritarian society, articulating its latent organic fissures. I mean, if it is war on terror or against anti-nationals, the state is comfortable in sanctioning murder and extra-judicial killings through extraordinary laws formally passed in Parliament. There is no fear of losing democratic legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream upper middle classes.

The working classes or even Naxals are however a different matter, trickier to handle. It is difficult to paint the working classes in textile mills of central Bombay as anti-national and hence for the state to move against it – particularly, when the working classes are consciously portraying themselves as a class in an organised fashion, as a ‘class-for-itself’, and are also politically represented in legislatures and are also largely ‘Hindu’. Decimating working class struggle is of the highest importance and yet executing it demands utmost discretion, a higher level of cunning.

The extra-legal decimating force cannot therefore take the shape of a formal law, even an extraordinary one through an act of Parliament and so on. ‘Society’ then has to ‘produce’ such a force from within its organic underbelly – hence, while enacting the most general interests of capital, Thackeray was not someone who could be a hired goon for the capitalists and mill owners of Mumbai. A hired goon or henchman would only defend particular interests of specific capitalists and industrialists. Thackeray did that too – Rahul Bajaj recalls how Thackeray ‘sorted out’ a workers-related issue at his manufacturing facility. There must be many such cases of ‘sorting out’ by the Sena.

But beyond a point Thackeray ‘rises above’ these individual cases and becomes a higher presence, Hriday Samrat. Or, ‘Maharashtra’s patriarch’, as HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh put it and whose loss he wants to mourn. The point is clear: why would a banker mourn the death of ‘a patriarch’? We have here a much deeper conduit between the (upper caste Hindu) underbelly and (publicly acknowledged) capitalist class interests – Hindutva and the general interests of capital merge in Thackeray.

Moreover, Thackeray could enact all this in the name of the ordinary Marathi manoos. What is not so common knowledge is that he also made liberal use of the anti-Brahman language and symbolism from Jotirao Phule when “he ridicules the pompousness of the Brahmin cultural establishment and ‘high society’” (Thomas Blom Hansen, Wages of Violence, p. 199). If this was not enough, Blom Hansen reports that CPI leader Dange was once invited to share dais with Thackeray, to tremendous applause. And that the ‘socialist’ George Fernandes was a family friend of the Thackeray clan. Further also that the Sena flirted for some time with the idea of ‘practical socialism’ in the early 1980s.

This deep nexus between the Sena and the Indian state and big capital does not however seem credible to many progressives. The word they use is ‘collusion’ between the state and the Hindutva forces. This suggests that the nexus is not deep enough and you expect that when the fascist thugs come for your life you can still be saved by the state – since the state is constitutionally bound to do that for you! Thus when the Sena came gunning for them, the CPI leadership was indeed looking for a way to convert a clearly anti-communist offensive, nay a murder plan, of the Sena and the ruling classes, into a case of a wider attack on the so-called secular fabric of the nation and so on.

Well, did the secular fabric and the Indian state come to the rescue of the communists? It didn’t: the secular fabric turned the other way, just the manner in which Indian security forces often look the other way when hapless Muslims appeal for help in a riot situation. The difference with Muslims is that the communists are targeted first. Indeed the Shiv Sena phenomenon is a clear case of ‘first they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist…’. And yet there is today a veiled attempt to avoid probing the period when communists were face to face with the Sena. We need to revisit the communist strategy and find out why the response was ‘nothing’, above all keeping in mind that an anti-communal front cannot be where communists should be taking refuge.

But ‘revisiting communist strategy’ is not to now utter postcolonial inanities like ‘the communists emphasized the class question too much and never really understood caste, or religion or identities’. It is not to validate what in ‘cultural studies’ is called ‘the problem of translation’, that class is supposedly a Euro-centric category and cannot comprehend Indian social reality. Instead it is to state that there is really no problem of translation.

The problem of translation was not for the communists but for Thackeray: isn’t it common knowledge that he had to resort to the language and politics of class, that he had to take up the interests of the workers and lower castes, in order to institute his ‘identity politics’. He was forced to do that – he had to translate his identity politics into class lines in order to gain entry into the ‘communist stronghold’ of central Bombay. As the political scientist Aryama pointed out to me, unlike ‘fascists’, the Shiv Sena did not really crush the working class movement. It rechanneled the movement along ‘safe’ lines of Marathi manoos, anti-Muslim politics and so on.

It was not emphasis on class and the problem of translation which undid the communists but a half-hearted emphasis – there was emphasis on the working class ‘issues’ but not on class power, on the organised power of the working class led by the vanguard party. Working class power would have given us a different scenario after Desai’s murder. That is, in a bizarre twist, it was the Sena which would mobilize workers’ ‘militancy’, now misdirected, rather than the CPI leadership which ditched both ground level leaders like Desai and other workers by instead relying on the supposed rule of law and Indian constitutional, legal protection and so on.

So when did ‘direct action’ become a purely fascist trait, as the progressives are telling us today? Here is today a left which turns its back on working class history apparently because class is not an adequate category for Indian reality and so on – something which does not follow from actual facts. Perhaps, it was such a decrepit left which convinced those like Namdeo Dhasal to join the Sena rather than the left – for the Dalit Panthers did also use direct action as a way to defend the interests of Dalit working classes. The communist tradition has a strong place as much for direct action as for direct democracy – you however cannot have one without the other. This needs to be reasserted.

Direct action can be critiqued. But such a critique cannot be geared towards suggesting that we should now come under the mediation of the rule of law and the constitution – and then refuse to see how these latter cannot be upheld at the expense of the workers’ power. Thackeray’s direct action was to ultimately defend the mediation of the rule of law, facilitate its normal functioning and preserve the status quo. It was an exception meant to reinscribe the rule. It was the Hindutva thug’s AFSPA – extraordinary law to ensure the return to ordinary laws, to ‘peace and development’.

The communist workers and the Dalit Panthers’ ‘direct action’ is merely a (Hegelian) move to recognize the Sena’s ‘direct action’, the Hindutva thug’s AFSPA to be an integral part of the normal functioning of the law and the norm. The pro-state (or democratic/parliamentary) left, including many social movements, fails to recognize it as such and is in denial. It treats the Sena’s ‘direct action’ as an aberration from ‘our constitution’ or ‘democratic tradition’ or ‘the idea of India’ – it hence rushes to the state and the rule of law to seek ‘correction of this aberration’, seek legal protection and in the process claim to be democratic and peace-loving and so on. It would have been fine if this was done to strategically build a powerful wider movement. Instead it reduces the entire movement to just this. This is clear, for example, from the way it equates ‘direct action’ by the communists with that of the fascists.

This has historical parallels. After the collapse of Nazism, western liberals tried to present Nazism as an aberration, as something which just happened – if only we would not forget how horrible fascism was, we could stop it from repeating itself. Marxists, in particular the Soviet countries, treated fascism as a live possibility so long as the bourgeoisie was in power. So the Soviets would not merely build memorials to the victims of a past event, which we should not forget, but emphasise that the war against fascism is an ongoing one. Fascism is not in that sense a historically singular aberration.

Moreover when it came to the communist resistance to Nazism, the Soviets were equated to the Nazis. So we are told you have the Nazi concentration camps, but you also have Soviet concentration camps! We cannot take these claims at face value as simple statement of facts. At another level, we must seriously take Slavoj Zizek’s provocation: “in today’s era of hedonist permissivity as the ruling ideology, the time is coming for the Left to (re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently “Fascist” about these values” (‘The True Hollywood Left’ ).

The rejection of direct action by equating it with fascist tactics therefore is not just a simple and sincere way to counter the Sena offensive. It conceals a refusal to open up a whole history of communist and working class resistance in Mumbai which used ‘similar’ tactics – including by the Dalit Panthers. We are very good in upholding the cultural heritage of the left movement, right from tamashas to nukkad nataks to the poems and songs from IPTA. If these are not to become mere cultural artefacts and floating images, we must uncover the history of very real battles that have been fought, street by street, factory after factory, chawl after chawl.

Perhaps lot of the questions about organization, agency, mass mobilization, vanguard; about class struggle and identity/caste and so on can be better addressed through an account of these struggles. Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar’s work is highly commendable in this respect but we need more work in this area which would directly tell us about communist organizing rather than provide only an ‘ethnography of labour’ (One Hundred Years, One Hundred Voices: The Millworkers of Girangaon, An Oral History, Seagull, Kolkata, 2004). An elementary aspect of workers insurgency is waiting to be written. Perhaps this will also help us expand our approach to understanding revolutionary struggle beyond the Tebhagas and Telanganas and the Naxalbaris – particularly, if one is really serious about ‘the urban perspective’.

To start with, we might want to find more about Krishna Desai’s Lok Seva Dal about which we are told by Prakash: “Desai founded the Lok Seva Dal as much to counter the Sena’s ideological appeal as to confront its physical force. With these twin purposes in mind, the Lok Seva Dal held political-education classes as well as organized physical exercise programs and games. Since the party leadership offered no support, Desai raised money locally to pay for expenses” (p. 245). Now, are you about to tell me that the “organised physical exercise programs and games” reminds you of a RSS shakha?

So what’s new about Mumbai burning? Our response

14 August 2012 , By Jyoti Punwani, The Hindu
MOB FURY: Police failure to anticipate and prevent Saturday’s violence is blameworthy. Photo: Vivek Bendre

MOB FURY: Police failure to anticipate and prevent Saturday’s violence is blameworthy. Photo: Vivek Bendre
Every time the Shiv Sena and the MNS have gone on the rampage in the city, the State government, police and even media have been mute bystanders

Saturday’s violence by Muslim youth has shaken Mumbai. This is probably the first time that policemen have borne the brunt of the violence — of the 63 injured, 58 are policemen. What kind of mob has the guts to attack the police and think it can get away with it? A Muslim social worker has filed a complaint with the police against the organisers for instigating the public; a Muslim lawyer has gone to the High Court with the same demand. The police have so far arrested 23, charged them with murder and other offences, and set up a Special Investigation team (SIT) to probe the sudden outburst of violence. With tons of visual evidence, it won’t be difficult to identify the rioters.

The questions

Despite all these steps, some questions remain. Is it not the organisers’ responsibility to control the crowd they mobilise and ensure that no inflammatory speeches are made? Why aren’t they being arrested, specially since one of the organisers has a record of instigating violence? Why has the man who made the inflammatory speech not been arrested?

Second: why has this flurry of activity not been seen on all the other occasions that mobs have “burnt Mumbai”? While this may be the first time that the police has been targeted, it’s not the first time the media or BEST buses or cars have been vandalised. Indeed, in the last two months, Mumbai has seen frequent displays of such hooliganism. On May 31, observing the National Democratic Alliance-called Bharat Bandh, Shiv Sainiks damaged 42 BEST buses. This despite the chairman and seven of the 17 BEST Committee members being Shiv Sainiks. The chairman explained away the vandalism by saying that “protesters become uncontrollable” on such occasions, and demurred when asked if his party would pay for the damage.

Mid-June saw the new saviour of the Marathi Manoos “kick-off” a campaign against the payment of toll tax. Within 72 hours, three toll nakas were vandalised. Visuals of those actions are pretty similar to videos of Saturday’s violence — the same iron rods, the same smashing of glass. But there was one important difference. After the violence, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) MLA Shishir Shinde declared in audibly slurred tones, his party’s intention to destroy toll nakas. The police obligingly waited till he finished addressing TV cameras before taking him away in their van. Saturday’s videos had no such bravado — after smashing everything in sight, the topi-clad youth could be seen fleeing for dear life from police lathis. Two youngsters died in the ensuing firing.

The fallout of the two incidents however, may not be too different. Today, an MNS sticker on your car can exempt you from paying toll. And last week, the Maharashtra Chief Minister gave an audience to the man behind the violent anti-toll agitation. Accompanying Raj Thackeray at the meeting with the CM was Shishir Shinde. Two days after Saturday’s violence, Maharashtra’s Home Minister gave a clean chit to one of the organisers of Saturday’s rally, the Raza Academy. Don’t be surprised if the outfit’s chief, Maulana Saeed Noorie, is soon seen sharing the stage with R.R. Patil, Congress Minister Naseem Khan and other influential members of our government. After all, Eid is just round the corner. Had the violence not taken place, the rally’s leading lights would have attended the CM’s iftaar scheduled for Saturday evening.

However, those who rioted aren’t getting the same treatment that Shiv Sainiks and MNS rioters do. It can be argued that attacking the police is more serious than attacking public property. But attacking unarmed citizens only because they belong to a particular faith or region — is that less serious? The MNS’s attacks on North Indians, all televised, are just four years old. Two innocents were killed then. When the National Human Rights Commission directed the State to pay compensation of Rs.5 lakh each to the victims’ families, the government spoke of financial problems. Incidentally, the MNS’s unique way of protecting Marathi pride in 2008 cost the State a loss of Rs.500 crore. As for the Shiv Sena’s record of targeting, often fatally, unarmed South Indians, Muslims, mediapersons, Valentine’s Day lovers, rickshaw drivers — it would be insulting the readers’ intelligence to list the details.

Looking back

Police failure to anticipate and prevent Saturday’s violence is indeed blameworthy. But what’s new? When the Mumbai police has had indications of Sena-led violence, has it ever tried to prevent it? Forget the 1992-93 riots. In December 2010, the Pune police, apprehending violence at a protest called by the Sena, tapped Sena leaders’ phones and heard Milind Narvekar, Uddhav Thackeray’s PA, instruct Sena MLC Neelam Gorhe (a former Socialist) to gather a mob, burn buses and inform TV channels. Everything went according to plan; 54 buses were burnt. Pune’s Police Commissioner repeated the Maharashtra police’s time-honoured motto: “Preventive arrests would have aggravated the situation” and R.R. Patil supported her, saying the police’s priority was to “safeguard law and order and protect the public.”

When Meenatai Thackeray’s statue was desecrated on a Sunday in July 2006, the Sena ran amok. The same man produced another gem: “If the violence continues on Monday, the police will take action.”

After the Sena attacked the IBN Lokmat office in 2009, senior journalist Kumar Ketkar, whose house had been earlier attacked by Nationalist Congress Party supporters because he had dared criticise the plan to set up a Shivaji statue in the middle of the Arabian Sea, told a news channel: “Mumbai has not become feeble, Mumbai has become used to [such violence]. It was in 1966 when the Shiv Sena was born and ever since Maharashtra has been used to this culture. The Shiv Sena worship and encourage violence. So Mumbai’s youth become more and more involved in this and this is a very dangerous trend.”

The Muslim youth who went on a rampage on Saturday are also part of Mumbai. Maybe they felt they would be treated like their Hindutva counterparts.

Their leaders, knowing that’s not possible, have tendered cringing apologies on TV and asked the culprits to turn themselves in. Imagine any of the Thackerays or Togadias doing that. On the contrary, the celebrity columnists and indignant TV anchors now foaming at the mouth at “Mumbai burning” see nothing wrong in conducting long interviews with the Thackerays, where the latter brazenly defend their tactics.

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)


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