Book explores life and times of Bal Thackeray

There were never any half measures about late Bal Thackeray - it was either all or nothing for the man who always knew what he wanted, says a new book which explores the life and times of the enigmatic Shiv Sena founder.

New Delhi: There were never any half measures about late Bal Thackeray - it was either all or nothing for the man who always knew what he wanted, says a new book which explores the life and times of the enigmatic Shiv Sena founder.

In "Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena Changed Mumbai Forever", senior journalist Sujata Anandan provides an insight into how a rather timid man from a modest background was shaped by circumstances and vested interests into a demagogue with the kind of success and following few could dream of.

The author says Thackeray always called a spade a spade, cared little for the sensibilities of others and had absolutely no pretensions about anything, even if what he said made him look rather brutal at times and foolish at others. However, it was not as though Thackeray was stubborn at all times and never open to change.

"On the contrary, as late playwright Vijay Tendulkar said, since he had no real ideology, he was able to suit his policies to the changing times or his own whims with no difficulty at all. Rather, he was like the mercurial queen in Lewis Carroll`s `Alice in Wonderland`, who would order `off with his head` one moment and on with it the next, then off again for no good reason at all except that it struck her fancy at that precise moment to do so," the book, published by HarperCollins India, says.

According to the author, this book is neither a biography of Thackeray nor a definite history of the Shiv Sena. "It is merely a labour of love that hopes to explain to readers unfamiliar with his life and times, and those who have only a narrow view of his parochial politics, the phenomenon that was Bal Thackeray."

The author says that towards the end of his days, Thackeray`s anti-Muslim rhetoric underwent a subtle changed that remained unnoticed by many for a long time.

"The Sena tiger gave up roaring against Indian Muslims altogether. Instead, he professed a love for Maharashtrian Muslims as part of his `apla manoos` (our man) theory and reserved his fire for Pakistan and those professing allegiance to it," she writes.

"That was a remarkable toning down from the times when his anti-Muslim rhetoric had compelled some leading intellectuals, including noted scholar and a former minister in successive Congress governments in Maharashtra, Rafiq Zakaria, to lead a delegation to Matoshree in the dark of the night, soon after the Shiv Sena came to power in 1995.

"These intellectuals were worried that with the government now dancing to his tune, the minority community in the state would be sitting ducks and may not be left in peace to pick up the broken pieces of their life and move on and away from 1993."

A rabble rouser, who started out as a cartoonist alongside R K Laxman in the Free Press Journal in the 1950s, Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena in 1966 on the plank of job security for the Marathi manoos (sons of the soil) which translated into attacks on South Indians whom he had blamed for taking away the opportunities from the locals.

Supporters identify Shiv Sena with instant justice and results even if it means that they live on the edge all the time and battle with the law and authorities every step of the way.

"This is something that was deliberately encouraged by Bal Thackeray through the years. As such, most of those who joined the Shiv Sena in the early years were from the lower middle classes and slums. They had very little stake in the system but enjoyed complete protection under Thackeray`s umbrella. They had little to lose even if they were caught out in criminal activities and so they neither cared nor were encouraged to think for themselves," the book says.

The author also says that there is a remarkable irony in the fact that Thackeray discouraged higher education among his Marathi supporters and foot soldiers so that they retained their unquestioning minds, never dissented and accepted everything their superiors told them as gospel truth ? and, most important, followed even orders that were grossly wrong.

"Because, in many ways, the Sena tiger actually owed the success of his political party to the fair amount of literacy among the Maharashtrian people," she claims.

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