Monday 25 October 2021
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HomeViewsArticleBalasaheb Thackeray's Legacy Up For Grabs

Balasaheb Thackeray’s Legacy Up For Grabs

The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has failed to live up to the ideals of Balasaheb, leaving a void that the BJP alone can fill


Devendra Fadnavis showed prescience, despite being heckled by Shiv Sena workers, when he visited Shivaji Park on 18 November to pay his respects on Balasaheb Thackeray’s 7th death anniversary. This was particularly poignant because it is just seven years since Bal Thackeray passed away. And already, his son Uddhav, showing little political vision, was making ready to dump his Hindutva legacy. This in the thick of Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress’s attempts at cobbling together a government.  

And Balasaheb’s once charismatic nephew Raj Thackeray has no influence beyond his bailiwick of Thane either. It is an irony that he made no attempt to split the party when he had the chance in Balasaheb’s declining years.

 The orphaned MLAs born and bred in the Balasaheb vision can now head for the BJP along with large numbers of party workers. As the remains of the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena reap the whirlwind for its past financial misdeeds, it won’t have much money to look after its flock either.

Bal Thackeray, however, is certainly a Hindutva icon worth the honouring. He stood firm when there were very few flag-bearers of the saffron ideology.  Despite his legacy being unceremoniously betrayed by the party he founded under the leadership of his son, it remains valuable. Uddhav saw fit to quickly dump the demand for a Bharat Ratna award for Veer Savarkar too.

Balasaheb Thackeray however, supported Hindutva and the Marathi Manoos all along. His party belonged to the NDA from the days of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and through the decade of thick and thin after NDA1.

Today, the Shiv Sena, circa 2019, still invokes Bal Thackeray’s name, but apparently denies his explicit and implicit legacy. It is therefore there for the taking by Devendra Fadnavis in the State and the BJP/RSS national leadership.

The situation is reminiscent of the legacy of Sardar Patel, adopted by the BJP, even as the Nehru-Gandhi-led Congress tried to all but forget about him.

Balasaheb’s story is described in a new film starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and probably does not need repeating. It all started decades ago, as did the story of Maharashtra as a State, with Bombay as its capital.

I too lived in the Bombay of the seventies — 1969 to 1979. Most of it was under the stable and low-key governance of Chief Minister VP Naik of the Indira Gandhi-led Congress. His son went to St Xavier’s College, as I did, and remember visiting him at Varsha on Malabar Hill. It was unfussy. Just like going to any other friend’s house.

It was a very pleasant Bombay in those days. There was enough room to sit down at the front of the double-decker BEST buses, upstairs, with the windows propped open to take in the sea breeze.

The Shiv Sena was then just a fringe pressure group. It had demanded the ouster of south Indians working in Bombay, then concentrated in the suburb of Chembur. The anti-Pakistan-anti-Muslim stance came much later, provoked no doubt by terrorism and the bomb blasts in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992.

But in south Bombay, Shiv Sena, under the early Bal Thackeray, with his occasional threats, trade unionist cum extortionist ways, his goons, did not matter very much. You heard names like Datta Samant and, later, George Fernandes, the former provoking factory lockouts. And the latter railway shutdowns and road blockages at Fountain in Fort.

The infrastructure of Bombay those days was largely adequate, the trains ran on time, the electricity never went on the blink. However, water, gas, milk and other things that were obtainable against a ration card, Padmini cars, bakelite telephones and connections, were, along with many other things like foreign exchange, in typically socialist short-supply. It must be remembered the Indira Gandhi years were hardly known for development or GDP growth but the broad civic and policy neglect, carried on for decades, with little redress by a largely Congress government, either on its own or in a coalition.

Meanwhile, Shiv Sena had grown into a considerable political influence throughout Maharashtra, if not much of a stable electoral presence, right through the Balasaheb years. Since his demise, truth be told, Uddhav Thackeray has led it to a terminal decline.

If the Balasaheb legacy is taken over by the BJP now, the Shiv Sena may be presented with the uphill task of reinventing itself in its newfound ‘secular’ role in the opposition, both in Maharashtra and nationally. Today, in the 21st century, even as India boasts of its economic progress, people routinely die in potholes in Mumbai, even as the richest municipality in the country run by the Shiv Sena looks on unmoved. That the BJP, which has almost as many seats in the BMC, has kept quiet about this disgrace can perhaps now be remedied at last. Even apart from the shortcomings of the BMC, the massive demands of a megapolis often called the Maximum City, are badly unmet to this day.

The first notable development, besides a carriageway towards the airport, built long ago, and sundry flyovers, was the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, opened as recently as 2009, and of course, the 94.5 km Bombay-Pune Expressway, built in record time by Nitin Gadkari during NDA 1, in 2002.

The Fadnavis first term, however, has been marked by movement in long-stalled infrastructure development, including the Mumbai Metro and the shortly expected first bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. And now, with a second term in hand, pending the floor and the misinformation swirling thick and fast, more confident and rapid progress can be expected. Of course, the timely with the NCP or a sizeable number of its MLAs in another configuration, should it choose this moment to split between the Supriya Sule (Sharad Pawar) and Ajit Pawar factions, has some glue to it. The NCP has a number of corruption cases against some of its most prominent leaders including Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar, Praful Patel and could even rope in Supriya Sule and her husband. This will tend to keep the junior partner in this new configuration well-behaved during the five-year term going forward.

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Gautam Mukherjee
Commentator on political and economic affairs

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