When a legend dies (Balasaheb Thackeray)

What do you do when the person on whom you have pinned all your political fervor and dreams on for the past forty six (46) years passes away?

Many questions fill your mind… who will speak for us? can they be as charismatic? as powerful? command the respect? will they love the people?

When one is gripped in the throes of loss and emotional anguish it is sometimes hard to think clearly, to put things into perspective, to act rationally… perhaps that is what prompted a rapid shut down of the great city of Mumbai… twenty one million people managed to find their way home, shut down all businesses and lock all doors in a little over two hours after his death was announced. Fear is a powerful motivator!

Bal Thackeray (1926-2012)
The pipe-smoking, beer-loving, self-styled Hindu hriday samrat (‘emperor of Hindu hearts’), could bring Mumbai and the entire State of Maharashtra to a standstill by a single command.

The unrest began three days before when it was announced that Bal Thackeray patriarch of the Shiv Sena political party was critically ill… Thousands gathered outside his home to await news. He was having respiratory problems and in the throes of a cardiac arrest. Many businesses began shutting down even then as memories of previous blood letting with his involvement came flooding back to memory. Uneasily, people watched the news for a sign of what they should do next, even as Bollywood stars, and other noted politicians rushed to his bedside to pay homage.

Thackeray is either a visionary, a saint, a charismatic leader or a hateful, Hitler loving, divisive thug… depending on whom you talk to. He made no secret of his admiration for Hitler, and started his career as a cartoonist with the Free Press Journal in the 1950s. In 1960, he started a cartoon weekly called Marmik, and used it to campaign for a unified separate Maharashtra state, and against Gujaratis and south Indian workers migrating to then Bombay. He formed the Shiv Sena party in nineteen sixty six (1966). His political agenda was built on the tenets of Hindu nationalism and regional chauvinism and he did not hesitate to resort to mob tactics to have his will enforced. His legacy is irrevocably bound up in anti-migrant hate particularly targeting Muslim and Pakistani residents of Maharashtra. Some feel he has been a scourge on Mumbai which is the the financial and entertainment capital of India… while others felt he was the protector of their legacy, the bastion of Hindu nationalism.

Balasaheb later began sporting a stylish beard and wore twin bead necklaces in the manner of Hindu gurus and ran the Shiv Sena like a local militia. Active until the end, Bal Thackeray, who never hesitated to practice his particular brand of street politics, had just days ago on Nov 5 asked party activists “not to permit” the forthcoming cricket matches between India and Pakistan.

Love him or hate him his passing has left Mumbai gripped in an unearthly and uneasy stillness which descended at approximately seven (7) PM yesterday evening… two and a half hours after his death was announced. Almost twenty four (24) hours later… businesses remain closed and only tentative signs of life are visible outside. Perhaps memories of the Mumbai riots of 1992 -1993 still reverberate strongly in their memories… these riots which left nine hundred (900) dead in it’s wake and pitted Muslims against Hindus scarred irrevocably the residents of Mumbai and the Shiv Sena played an instrumental part in inciting much of the violence that played out over those two months… by the time leaders realized that the mob could not be controlled and called for an end to the violence, it was out of their control.

Sad or happy… all people are united in one thought… we want no violence… and I for one will be more than happy to be bombarded once more with the traffic and crush and incessant noises that define Mumbai.

One Heart, One Love, One people…