FAQs-Who needs moral policing, how much and why? #mustread #Vaw #1billionrising #Valentinesday

, by Anjali MonteiroK P Jayasankar

Love in the time of moral policing

The moral police are everywhere. Crawling out of the woodwork into our public spaces. In our legislative assemblies, in our board rooms, in court rooms, on the streets, in colleges, in cinemas and cyber cafes, gardens and pubs, even in police stations. Alas, and perhaps in our heads too. The rabid Sri Ram Sena or the Shiv Sena or the Bajrang Dal foot soldiers who demonstrate their love for ‘Indian culture’ by molesting girls wearing jeans and vandalising Valentine’s Day celebrations are unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg. They are supported openly and tacitly, by many ‘honourable’ others, ranging from chief ministers and health ministers to members of the National Commission for Women.

So many people in our country are in a state of moral panic over ‘western’ culture, pub culture, cyber culture and the many other ‘degenerate’ cultures that are polluting the sacred body of our Mother India and her pristine, fragile ‘Indian culture’, all of which call for more and more policing. Here are some Frequently Unasked Questions (FUQs, no pun intended) about moral policing in India.

Question 1: Who needs policing?

The list is long, maybe endless. At the top are impressionable young women and girls, who need to be protected from the corrupting effects of the afore-mentioned ‘evil’ cultures. Women are progenitors and homemakers — their sexuality needs to be strictly monitored, controlled and harnessed. If they have lost moral values, how can they become part of the eugenic project for a healthy and a morally sound generation next? What would happen to the sacred institution of the family if women got out of hand? Remember the Shiv Sena violence against a film like Deepa Mehta’s Fire? Love between two women leaves out the boys as arbitrators of women’s sexuality. Boys after all will be boys, they will settle down after marriage; but girls must be neither seen nor heard. Their ability to withstand the effects of ‘debauchery’ is far inferior to the male of the species. They cannot even handle cigarettes and alcohol. In other words, the moral police have to zealously shield all ‘less powerful others’ who are morally weak and can easily be perversely affected by stimuli of every kind: films, websites, beer, jeans, western music, birds and bees, in fact the list of provocative objects is infinite and ever growing.

This invention of a less powerful other is rampant and not confined just to the moral police, but informs the way in which ‘media impact’ is commonly framed. Our chattering classes are constantly exercised about the impact of the media on children, women, illiterates, poor people, villagers, slum dwellers — all subsumed under the category of the gullible and easily swayed ‘masses’ who have to be protected. This calls for a morally superior, intellectually more discerning ‘filter’ (in other words, people like ‘us’) who will decide what is fit for their impressionable eyes and ears. The censorship of the state is regarded as essential to uphold moral and aesthetic standards which popular cinema and television are prone to constantly violate.

This censorious mentality is widespread in our society and is perhaps uncomfortably close to the fine art of street censorship practiced by the Thackerays and Muthaliks.

Question 2: What needs policing?

Everything, but particularly all sites and signs of ‘modern’ ‘western’ culture, from greeting cards to cell phones, from pubs to cyber cafes: moral panic always hovers over frontier technologies. Our parents thought that films, or even radio, corrupted us. We worry about our children on the Internet; television has already become passé.

When printing was invented, our forefathers would have worried about its corrupting effects on young impressionable minds. In fact, in the medieval scriptoriums in European monasteries, access to certain texts was denied to younger writers. Today, sadly, no one grieves over the corrupting influence of books.

We forget that each generation has its own relationship with the cultural products of its own times. Personally, we have always thought of television as a ‘movie in a box’. When we took our daughter to her first movie, she asked us incredulously, when the first image appeared — “Is that a huge TV on the wall?” As someone who was born into a TV era, the relationship she has with the medium is qualitatively different from ours. Our collective inability to understand new technologies and our suspicion of what young people might be up to behind our backs makes us struggle to assert control — an essentially futile endeavour. Moral panic breeds behind the doors of the unknown.

Question 3: Why do we need policing?

The answer is simple: because ‘Indian Culture’ is fragile, because many Indians have delicate sentiments that are very easily hurt. And when these sentiments are hurt, maybe a few hundred people get massacred or raped, or maybe a shrine is pulled down or several thousand bar girls lose their jobs.

The state is assiduous in protecting the hurt sentiments of these sentinels of virtue. It usually turns a blind eye and sometimes even defends these actions — after all, how long can one hold back hurt sentiments? Our moral police know that they can strike with impunity; the chances are that the victims will get blamed for ‘provoking’ them.

Question 4: What is ‘Indian culture’?

The moral police are blissfully unaware of the contested nature of both the terms. Many years ago, a second generation ‘Indian’ child in London hesitantly admitted to us that she did not speak any ‘Indian’. Indian culture is as elusive as Indian food. In fact, one strong marker of it is the chilly. How many among the moral police, who lament about the fragility of ‘Indian culture’ know that the chilly first came to India with the Portuguese from South America not so long ago?

There are grids of exclusion at work, relations of power that begin to define the boundaries of Indian culture. A painting by Hussain done in the 1960s is suddenly a threat to our pristine traditions. Many of our 330 million Hindu Gods have spent the prime of their lives unclothed; the time has come to design moral robes for them. Khajuraho and Konarak now badly need saffron fashion designers.

Question 5: Why do the moral police indulge in policing?

Unfortunate tautology. How else would they grab the eyeballs of the nation? With very little work and no long-term investments, they can become famous overnight and reap rich political dividends. There are few risks involved, given the state’s sensitivity to their hurt sentiments.

Valentine’s Day provides rich opportunities. Dubbed as a threat to Indian culture, it throws up immense possibilities for great photo ops. The media has coined an endearing acronym to discuss certain goings on between young adults — PDA, roughly translated, it reads public display of affection. These acts are firmly handled by the moral police, who reiterate their faith in our great traditions by molesting the women publicly in front of television crews, who promptly arrive at the scene of the spectacle, forewarned and forearmed.

Question 6: Who gives the moral police the right to police?

Too many of us, through our sins of omission and commission. When the captains of industry cosy up to a champion of ethnic cleansing, when a leading television news channel gives an award to a staunch defender of the politics of hate, one begins to understand how deep and pervasive the rot is.

The normalisation of hate politics, the selective amnesia of the middle class — all these add up to strengthening the power of the moral police.

Question 7: What of love in the time of moral policing?

The moral police hate love and love hate. While the militant ones are easy to spot, the ‘soft’ ones are insidious.

They begin to define the realm of the ‘normal’. They censor our films, define dress codes, and make laws to control the Internet, all in the name of decency and order, of protecting the vulnerable and preventing social chaos.

While we must protest, firmly and loudly, against gross violations like Mangalore and Meerut, can we begin to speak fearlessly against the little everyday violations, the covert ways in which our spaces for love and freedom are encroached upon? And above all, we must never forget: Ayodhya and Mangalore are both manifestations of the same politics of hate and intolerance that we must resist till our last Valentine’s Day.

(The authors are professors at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)


Goodbye Mr Thackeray, you taught me how to love

November 20, 2012 , rediff.com

‘I write this piece,’ says Javed Iqbal, ‘not just to come to terms with my childhood, but to speak about those who were once Shiv SenaImages ] loyalists, whose dreams did not die with the passing away of Bal ThackerayImages ], but were dead long before he was gone.’

It took the madness of 1992 and images of mangled corpses being brought out of buses and markets in 1993 to forever lay down memories in my mind that made me wonder as a child: Why?

It was the first memory in my life that showed me what human suffering looked like. Growing up, you can have your first kiss, your first fight, your first job, you lose your virginity, the first time you get drunk, but we never wonder when was the first time we were taught empathy.

Today, I am a journalist. I document human rights abuses in central India [ Images ] committed by the State and the Maoists, and when I am back home in MumbaiImages ], I document the demolition of slums, the demolition of the homes of those people who I was once taught to fear.

Most of the people who I work with, with whom I have developed the strongest relationships across class, religion and gender, were once Shiv Sena loyalists who, over time, I realise were the most misrepresented people in the city.

Today, I write this piece, not just to come to terms with my childhood, but to speak about their present predicament, their dreams that did not die with the passing away of Bal Thackeray, but were dead long before he was gone.

A long time ago, it took an eight-year-old child with innocence situated at a time in history when this country was losing again what it meant to be a community: The hundred rumours of police firings, burnings, stabbings, and smoke spread across the sky, Hindu neighbours who shaved their beards, Muslim neighbours who left home to live with us, ‘Don’t tell your name to any stranger’; I sat watching anxiety get cut with a knife in my living room as every story of a stabbing filtered across the lanes.

I was an introverted child, confused, and I still remember March 12, 1993, when we were sent home early from school because of the bomb blasts.

Saleem, a man from Bharatnagar in Bandra East, whose slum lost 11 people on December 7, 1992, when the police chased them back into their homes and fired at them, was the first to tell me that there were blasts across the city.

I still remember him walking up to me that day and telling me what had happened, yet I never asked him about what happened in Bharatnagar.

‘How was it that day?’ I had asked him when I was much older.

‘What time is it?’ He asked me.

‘It’s three in the afternoon.’

‘Well,’ he said nonchalantly, ‘If you were shot at three in the afternoon now, you’d only get admitted in a hospital at three in the afternoon tomorrow. That’s how big the lines were.’

After the blasts of ’93, I was looking at the photos of body parts in the newspaper. Mangled. Burnt. Dismembered. These were once human beings. I was glad nothing was censored. And today a verse written over 500 years ago by Kabir is a much closer description of what I felt when I saw it all.

‘It’s a heavy confusion.
Veda, Quran, holiness, hell, woman, man,
A clay pot shot with air and sperm….
When the pot falls apart, what do you call it?
…Numskull! You’ve missed the point.

It’s all one skin and bone, one piss and shit,
one blood, one meat.
From one drop, a universe.’

And the pots kept falling. Over the years, this city has seen enough anxiety with every unattended package left in the corner of a busy street.

And the pots kept falling. One group of fanatics wished to teach another group of fanatics a lesson. Bomb blasts in Malegaon, Hyderabad, Mumbai again and again, Delhi [ Images ], and the rampages of Gujarat, 2002. Yet are the victims fanatics?

The police firing at Vikhroli’s Ramabai Nagar on July 11, 1997, the killing of 11 Dalits, and how was it told to us in school when they asked us to go home early? ‘Some Dalits went on a rampage after they found slippers on a statue of Ambedkar.’ Rampage. The word massacre was not used when the police had gone into the slum and fired and killed innocent people. When a young boy’s head was blown apart by a .303.

1992 was just the blade that cut through that pot of my skull: My memory. And as I grew older, it all started pouring in: In 1984 the Sikh massacres, the Nellie massacre in Assam, the mass killing fields of Dalits who fought for their rights in Bihar, the Kilvenmani massacre in Tamil Nadu when 42 were burnt alive, and yes, Kashmir [ Images ] through the decades, to today, where my own work took me from village after village, massacre after massacre in Dantewada, committed by our own security forces and the Maoists as well.

I had to imagine India, this subcontinent, to look at her, to love her through the looking glass of atrocities and massacres. Indian democracy is hot metal searing through the burning flesh of resistance. Indian democracy is machine-gunned silence.

Civilisation is repression. Civilisation is a boot crushing dissent, a status quo on the neck of a hungry man who asked why.

Indian democracy is the extra-judicial killing of the man in the forest, murdered with the last thoughts of being the loneliest man in the country. Nobody knows you shall die in the forest, nobody knows what you said.

Indian democracy becomes a long hard impossible journey towards human justice, any kind of it. To love within the history of these borders, it becomes, an unconditional love.

And yet the right-wing tendencies of the middle class grew with liberalisation. There always had to be the ‘other’, an enemy to fear, to destroy, to completely annihilate, while completely forgetting everything across the horizon.

The power of the majority would further be bequeathed on men of strength who only knew the politics of violence and hatred, who used the repression of the population, to commit crimes, to steal the heroes and symbols of the oppressed, to believe in pride, the greatest killer of all communities.

You can’t be equal with someone who demands superiority.

Once upon a time, a French anarchist had said property is theft, but to our times, identity is murder. Good fences do not make good neighbours when we have nuclear missiles and Molotov cocktails.

In 1992, I was made to believe I was victimised. And I refused to over time. No South Indians were stealing my job, no Communists were ruining business in my city, and no Muslims were trying to put Sharia law in my home.

No Dalits were stealing my seat in college, no woman existed whose sexuality was a threat to me being a man or a lover.

I refused to be a victim, thus I was not searching for an identity. I was not afraid, and my privilege was the capacity to question authority — Everyone’s. From the State, to the school, my own family whose own biases I would begin to question. And it all started when I was beginning to be aware that human suffering is universal, and it started in 1992.

And while the memory of this city changes with the flutter of butterfly wings on a fired bullet, goodbye, Mr Thackeray, your hate taught me how to love. Goodbye, Mr Thackeray, your hate taught me a love that millions of people like you can never rob from me.

The Past from the Present Past

I have been documenting the demolition of homes in Golibar in Santacruz East, especially in a stronghold of the Shiv Sena for decades.

The residents are protesting against a builder who they claim took their consent for the project through fraudulent means. They have been facing demolition drives that have often led to lathi-charges, police cases, and everyone from the State to the courts have almost refused to listen.

Golibar was also a site of violent skirmishes and police violence on December 7, 1992, just a day after the demolition of the Babri Masjid [ Images ]. In a report by the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana and the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, there were 12 people stabbed to death, seven who died in police firing, eight shops and garages burned down, while numerous hutments, four vehicles, six handcarts were burnt.

According to its report, The Bombay Riots: The Myths and Realities, ‘At V N Desai Hospital, doctors pointed out a polio patient and epileptic from Nirmal Nagar, Golibar Kabristan, with abdominal bullet wounds. One woman who was brought dead had been shot on the top of her head.’

‘This is where they came from,’ says S, a Muslim resident, ‘to attack those who were going to the mosque.’

‘The very people who you are sitting with today, are the ones who we fought with, in 1992,’ he continued.

‘When did things change?’

‘When all of this started. The irony being it’s these builders who’ve united us.’

On November 24, 2010, the state officials along with the police had come to break down the homes of Allahuddin Abbas and Mohammed Afzal. Almost all of its residents came to their defence.

They didn’t let the police touch a single brick, and didn’t leave their neighbours, who stood before their doors, as the women of the society, almost all Hindus and Christians, screamed at the police and officials from the narrow corridors leading to their homes.

‘I was coming home with my family that day in 1992,’ says Aba Tandel, one of the main organisers of the people’s resistance at Golibar, and an old Shiv Sena loyalist, ‘They were burning a man right outside the railway station. And we quietly walked into the gully and went home.’

Today, the Shiv Sena in Golibar is invisible. They won the local elections when they convinced a local to not run as an Independent as he would cut into its voting base. They would promise to support their movement, and individual members of the party have often slipped information down the ladder that ‘demolitions will take place, be prepared.’ Yet apart from that or an occasional mention in Saamna, there’s nothing.

Yet this city, and especially these people, have seen the power of the Shiv Sena. They have faced over five brutal demolition drives, yet the only people trying to stop the demolition are their neighbours, or supporters from other slums who are fighting the same issue.

There is no Shiv Sena. There is no Marathi pride. There are no mobs. There the only people fighting for justice are themselves.

‘In 1995, Balasaheb had sold us a dream of a house,’ said Dutta Mane, another loyalist, and he on Sunday, the day of Balasaheb’s funeral, hasn’t gone to Shivaji Park, but had gone to do his own work at Nallasopara, a township close to Mumbai.

Dutta Mane had even travelled with me to the site of the blasts on July 13, 2011, and by the end of our work, Dutta was a tired man, and as we were walking away from the site, he looked back at the press vans, the reporters at the barricade, and he asked me about all the homeless that were sleeping on the pavement, just 10 seconds away, on a diagonally connected road: ‘Inka photo kaun le raha hai?’ (Who will take their photo?)

It was ridiculously apt. A man whose home is facing demolition is asking a reporter-friend of his, why the press doesn’t care about the homeless.

In the next morning’s paper, the photograph of a sleeping bloodied body strewn apart by a bomb, reminded me of those sleeping peacefully at Opera House or Zaveri Bazaar at three in the morning.

Dutta was a betrayed man.

With him, I would also travel to Ambujwadi and slums on the dumping grounds of Mumbai, who are a class separate from Golibar, who are the poorest of the poor, where a majority of Muslims live and face repeated demolition drives, and I ask them too: ‘Do any Muslim groups ever come and give you support? Anything like the Raza Academy? Any maulanas? Anyone?’

Their answer is always unanimous: No.

Javed Iqbal is a Mumbai-based journalist.

Javed Iqbal


Not a Thackeray of hope Manohar Joshi will give up his Koh-i-noor

Published: Tuesday, Nov 27, 2012, 10:30 IST
By Sudhir Suryavanshi | Agency: DNA
Here’s perhaps why senior Sena leader Manohar Joshi is cagey over giving away 4.8 acre of the Kohinoor Mills land to build a memorial for Bal Thackeray: he stands to lose property worth over Rs2,500 crore.Countering the mounting demands that the mill plot be handed over for constructing a memorial for Thackeray, who died on November 17, an annoyed Joshi has insisted that such a memorial will come up only at Shivaji Park in Dadar, where the Shiv Sena chief used to address rallies, even going to the extent of threatening to take the law into his hands if the need arises. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has ruled out the possibility of constructing this memorial at Shivaji Park.

Vijay Kamble, senior Nationalist Congress Party leader, dubs Joshi’s threat shameful. “If he has any real affection for Balasaheb, Joshi should hand over his mill land without hesitation. He should not love property more than the legacy of Thackeray, who gave him everything — from anointing him the chief minister to making him the Lok Sabha speaker. Joshi is the only one who got the most and key positions by Sena. Even if Joshi gives 10 Kohinoor Mills plots for the memorial, they will not be enough to repay what he owes Balasaheb.”

A senior Sena corporator who is also the chairman of a committee of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation alleges that Joshi’s demand for a memorial at Shivaji Park is a diversionary tactic. “He was the first person to announce the construction of a memorial. He probably knew that Shiv Sainiks would ask the Kohinoor Mills premises for the memorial. That’s why he played such a gimmick. But people are not fools; they can see through his politics.”l Turn to p4

He adds that the party cannot afford to cheese off voters in Dadar by forcing the construction of the memorial at Shivaji Park.

“A majority of our candidates lost in the civic poll this year. Forcing a memorial at Shivaji Park will only alienate the vote bank more.”

Social commentator Arun Tikekar questions the haste behind the move to fix a spot for the memorial. “The residents are opposing it. It won’t be appropriate to build one at the mayor’s bungalow. Besides, such a decision should be taken jointly by the Thackerays and Joshi. A memorial for Balasaheb can be built anywhere in the city.”

Real estate experts point out that Kohinoor Mills is a prime property in Dadar. “It comprises commercial and residential buildings, which will be ready by 2013. It has 72 ultra-luxury flats, each measuring 3,500sqft. The Kohinoor Group, headed by Manohar Joshi’s son Unmesh, has decided to sell each flat between Rs25 crore and Rs30crore. The aam aadmi cannot buy flats here; they will be sold only through invitations. These apartments are made for the uber-rich,” explains a realtor.

The buildings on the premises have not been sold as yet. “That’s why it’s the right time to build the memorial there, where we can have several guest houses and rooms to depict the life of Balasaheb. Also, Kohinoor Mills is close to Sena Bhavan and Shivaji Park,” argues Congress leader Rajendra Chaube.

Joshi was not available for his comments. His staff said he was away and had no idea when he’d be back.

Mr Bal Thackeray, The Capitalists And The Working Poor

By Vidyadhar Date

23 November,2012

Mr Bal Thackeray was essentially a man the capitalists liked and they were very comfortable with him. That is why he was always boosted by much of the media as a larger than life figure and after his death there is more gushing praise of the man.

`The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with the bones,’ said Mark Antony in his famous funeral speech in Shakespeare’s play Julius Ceasar. Mr Thackeray has no such problems and this is not to suggest that he did evil. In his case there is no shortage of people going out of the way to write in support of him. Mr Thackeray’s father Prabodhankar Thackeray was an avid Shakespeare fan, he spent so much from his scarce resources on books that this alarmed his mother and he devoted a lot of time researching in libraries. Mr Thackeray was so unlike his father in many many ways. Prabodhankar was a rationalist, activist, supporter of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Ambedkar and social reformer Jotirao Phule, he wrote several books. But how many remember him today ? Mr Bal Thackeray had little use for serious books.

Liberals have often criticized Mr Thackeray for his communalism, hate speech and chauvinism and rightly too. But during his time and after there is little recognition of the fact that he was very friendly with capitalists. The system everywhere has always needed an army of people to deal with others, especially dissenters. The Shiv Sena was seen as a solid ally.

There is justifiable and widespread anger over the arrest of two girls for their post on Facebook in the wake of Mr Thackeray’s death. But then killing someone with whom one does not agree is far more heinous. That is exactly what the Shiv Sena did and that is how it launched its foray into politics.The politics of terrorism of the Shiv Sena began in 1970 with the stabbing to death of Mr Krishna Desai, the Communist MLA, in 1970. That was the defining act of the Shiv Sena. It showed where it stood. It was a measured and well thought out attack on the Left movement which was fairly strong then. The murder aroused few protests from outside the Communist fold then .Even today few remember it today though it should serve as a warning for all times to come. Many of the political analysts writing on the Shiv Sena have often beaten about the bush, showered praises on Mr Thackeray for his ready wit and friendliness with them but most have overlooked the class affiliation of the Sena.

When it comes to confronting the fascists and hoodlums and the wealthy and imperialists, there is noticeable timidity and inactivity on the part of intellectuals. The German activist clergy man Martin Niemoller warned against this inactivity when drawing attention to the Nazi threat in Germany through his famous lines which state that if you do not act when others are attacked, there will be no one to protect you if you are attacked. . There is conspicuous omission in the gushing obituaries of Mr Thackeray of the Shiv Sena’s role in attacking the working people’s movements . As a young journalist then I still remember veteran Bhalchandra Marathe of Free Press Journal recalling what one of the assassins of Krishna Desai talked about. He said he thrust the knife and then turned the handle because that is what really ruptures the inner parts of the body. A murder most foul. If Mr Thackeray deserves a memorial, Mr Krishna Desai deserves it even more.

Mr Thackeray’s role also has to be seen in the context of the way the cities are being reshaped the world over to serve the interests of the rich and to exclude the poor. David Harvey, one of the most eminent thinkers of urban life , economics and politics , is our best guide to understand the issues. He asserts that the ordinary people should get a right to the city, access its services, shape its development. . It should be seen as a fundamental right.In a recent book Rebel Cities he shows how cities can be a harbinger of protest and change as in the case of the Occupy Movement in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Mr Thackeray intervened little on behalf of the poor though the poor Marathi Manoos was his main plank. Talk was seldom matched in practice when it came to the crux. But then how does one explain the phenomenal response to the funeral procession ? This question is aptly asked on Facebook by Mr John Game, a Britisher , who has done field work in Mumbai . A staunch leftist himself, he says we should realize that the Shiv Sena also did some service to citizens.

( As for the huge turn out at the funeral, let us remember that only some eleven people attended the funeral of Marx. ) True, Mr Thackeray took up the cause of ordinary people, channelized people’s frustration and economic hardships but he did it in a very negative way, reinforcing prejudices and encouraging violence, threats. Often, the poor were the victims, as in the case of those who were seen as outsiders. The rich had little to fear from him. It is opportunistic to criticize Mr Thackeray from a narrow perspective and not take cognizance of a system that is built on exploitation and then creates organizations that can divert the attention of the people from real issues.

He was expected to halt the gentrification of Mumbai and the eviction of the poor through physical and financial coercion. He has been called a tiger, an emperor and king of Mumbai and what not. Why was the king then so powerless to help the poor ?

The brutal gentrification of Mumbai, the extinguishing of its character as a working class city took place in the prime of Mr Thackeray’s political career. The most blatant and glaring example of the Shiv Sena’s role is evident right there in front of Shiv Sena Bhavan in the heart of Dadar You just cannot miss it. A monstrous, high rise, glass box , environment-unfriendly structure is coming up there distorting the character of the relatively environment-friendly area. It was from this building under construction that hundreds of people hung out to watch the funeral procession as seen in media photographs.

The land belonged to the Kohinoor textile mill of the National Textile Corporation and anyone would expect a party speaking in the name of Marathi Manoos to demand that it be used as a space for public use in this city which desperately needs public spaces. Strangely, it was bought for hundreds of crores and the buyers were Mr Raj Thackeray and Mr Unmesh Joshi, son of former Shiv Sena chief minister Manohar Joshi. Both have close ties to real estate. Mr Thackery is said to have made a huge profit by selling his stake, as reported by Economic Times of 15 November, 2009.

The mill once belonged to Laxmanrao Apte, the father former Test cricketer Madhav Apte, very much a Marathi Manoos. The Aptes were so affluent they owned a big bungalow on Peddar Road now converted into a high rise Woodlands apartments.

Had the big plot of Kohinoor mill remained vacant, the government would not have had to hunt for space for the memorial to Mr Thackeray now being vociferously demanded by the Sena. But then it is so much easier to prey on public resources. So there is a demand that the memorial be constructed on Shivaji Park, one of the few big open spaces in the city. One can only hope that the memorial is environment friendly and not some hideous and gigantic structure of cement and concrete .

There is clearly a sense of lack of proportion in the building of monuments. I was in Nagpur last week where life was as usual on the day of the funeral and death. Thee was no bandh anywhere. On the outskirts of the city is a cultural centre Pasayadaan with an anachronistically large statue of saint Dnyaneshwar.

Mr Thackeray comprehensively reversed the long liberal tradition of Maharashtra (my article on this subject in the Times of India 4 July, 1995). Mahatma Gandhi’s guru was Gopal Krishna Gokhale and favourite disciple was Vionoba Bhave. Mr Thackeray bore the title of Senapati, a military general, and acted ruthlessly. So different from another Senapati in Maharashtra, Senapati Pandurang Mahadev Bapat, a highly respected Gandhian who took the path of peaceful struggle after studying in college in England and learning bomb making.

He led the world’s first anti-dam struggle in what is known as the Mulshi satyagraha against the take over of the land of poor peasants, Mavlas, whose hardy forefathers were the backbone of Shivaji’s guerilla army. The same situation as in Singur, the government forcibly taking over fertile land for the Tatas. This was in 1921. The pillage of the land of the poor is now revived. The land of the Mavlas is now being overrun, vandalized by the rich and being turned into fancy townships but the Shiv Sena has not uttered a word against this though it speaks all the time in the name of Shivaji because this is politically convenient and easy to exploit. And the Shiv Sena does nothing to stop the complete removal of working class history and heritage.

Much of the political analysis and academic work overlooks the cosy relationship between the Sena and capitalists. But here is a surprise and it comes from unexpected quarters. One can read between the lines in an article by Mr Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj group, and an articulate spokesman of corporate interests, on the front page eulogizing Mr Thackeray in Economic Times of November 19. Says Mr Bajaj `My late uncle Ramkrishna Bajaj was a good friend of Balasaheb. When Parliamentary elections were taking place both Balasaheb and my uncle were anti-Communist. Though the ideology of the Congress and Shiv Sena was not common, they maintained a good rapport.’ . It was a time when anti-Left organizations were floated in different parts of the country in the wake of the debacle of the Congress in the elections . The reversal of the Congress and the rise of the Left had alarmed capitalists. As for the role of the Americans, any sincere police officer or political observer of the time will throw light on it.

Many people are in awe of the power wielded by Mr Thackeray. I found that even the highly respected cartoonist R.K. Laxman, my senior colleague in the Times of India , had this feeling . Both began as political cartoonists in the Free Press Journal in the 1940s. See how far ahead Mr Thackeray has gone, and here I am, he said to me one day in a sad tone. This was one time I could not agree with Mr Laxman.

Now, there is some consolation that there is more public awareness about the attacks on the freedom of expression. There was little of this in the past. A glaring victim of prejudice was Prof Pandharinath Vishnu Ranade, a Marxist professor of history. He was also an art lover , a poet and the author of a book on the art of Ajanta..This was in 1974, the year of the terecentenary of Shivaji’s coronation of 1674. It was celebrated in Maharashtra with much fanfare. Prof Ranade offered a dissenting note in an article in the weekly Ranangan. He was quite respectful towards Shivaji and only argued that hero worshipping him was inconsistent with democratic principles given the nature of the feudal era in which Shivaji lived. This created a storm. Mr Ranade lost his job in Marathwada university and he was reinstated only after protests by some leading progressive historians in the Indian History Congress. One day he was surrounded by Shiv Sainiks and threatened on Dadar railway bridge when he was returning after delivering a lecture. When I intervened I was assaulted and my spectacles were broken. Instead of condemning the attack on the freedom of expression, Mahaashtra Times, the leading Marathi daily, editorially criticized Mr Ranade. That is the tragedy . The public perception of many people is entirely at odds with reality. I have met any number of `well educated people` who firmly believe that it was because of Mr Thackeray that Hindus were saved from the onslaught of Muslims in the riots in 1992-93 !

It is easy to dismiss the masses who supported Mr Thackeray as riff raff. I believe they did this in desperation because our system is basically so unjust and unfair. If `well educated` people are so drawn towards fascists, one cannot really blame the common folk for supporting them.

Look at a comment made by Harsh Goenka, industrialist and art collector to the Times of India after Mr Thackeray’s death. He called him a revolutionary. That is contrary to the very term. If anything, Mr Thackeray could be called a counter revolutionary.

As for Lata Mangeshkar’s fanatical support for him, the roots go back to her father, the reputed singer actor Master Dinanath who was an ardent admirer of the founding ideologue of Hindu nationalism V.D. Savarkar. Her brother Hridaynath, music director, has frequently glorified Savarkar during television programmes, often going out of the way to do so.

Among the responses from political parties, Ideologially the most forthright comment I noticed was from Dr Ashok Dhawale, general secretary of the Maharashtra CPM. He has analysed Mr Thackeray in class terms.

I have covered several of the political rallies addressed by Mr Thackeray when I worked for the Times of India. Many of these were really impressive and one must grant him his sense of humour. Sometimes, he was pleased with my coverage and I heard this from his wife’s brother who worked in the administrative section of the paper. But when it comes to analysis of the Shiv Sena, the perspective has to be objective.

The negatives in the Sena were also too strong. At one meeting in Khar in Mumbai during the time the Shiv Sena was in power in the state, Mr Thackeray used such obscene words that I won’t be able to use them even in private conversation. Sadly, he pushed the political debate to extremely low levels. The most chauvinistic leaders in other states did not use such language of terror and hate as the Sainiks did.

Mr Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change. Walking, cycling, public transport need priority.


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October 2021
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