A Politics of Violence
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
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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 (email@example.com) is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist and human rights activist.
t 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
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provided the “spark that lit the ﬁre of patriotism which kept the country. the Congress government took no action except to send the editorials to the Press Council. In January 1993. He did. He
december 1. and controlled the TMC from 1974 to 1981. and two others had been killed for sheltering Muslims. Saamna. he was barred from voting or standing for election by the Supreme Court. the Mumbai police’s Sena bias. and the Constitution – an attitude of open contempt. for the January phase of which the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission indicted Thackeray with the words. Contempt for the Law Thackeray’s attitude towards the judiciary was consistent with his attitude towards the law. and then burning their bodies to chants of “Jai Sri Ram”. But those who controlled it were mostly non-Marathi-speaking people.000 each offered to him by Gujarati traders. It was all there in his newspaper Saamna. since they criticised only anti-national Muslims. That was the reason for his instant popularity with the Marathispeaking restless youth who found themselves on the sidelines of the wealth that was being generated in Mumbai in the 1960s. There was no retaliation by Muslims in Thane. they got the best Sena lawyers to defend them. we have slaughtered 300-350 Muslims”. then the remote control of the Sena-BJP ruling alliance in Maharashtra. 2012
. 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. belonging to communities that had always been a part of the city. and boasting that to save their lives. The community constituted one of Pakistan’s “seven atom bombs placed in Hindustan”. the judiciary was not always kind to Bal Thackeray. Thackeray directed the aspirations of Marathi-speaking youth against these other communities. After the 1984 riots that claimed 258 lives. two judges of the Bombay High Court ruled these editorials to be unobjectionable. preferring to be the “remote control” of the party rather than be accountable by holding a public ofﬁce. democracy. One editorial asked the corpses of Hindus to come alive to “tell us. started off life as a part of the “Narya-Varya’’ gang in Chembur. He also rejected the demand for a judicial inquiry into the riots. 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. Blatant Abuse of Muslims The 1984 riots displayed all the characteristics that came to be associated with Bal Thackeray and his party – Muslim baiting. Patil refused to prosecute Thackeray for his Chowpatty speech. 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. Narayan Rane. were not spared. and had a murder case against him when he became CM. Diwakar Raote. violence against Muslims. The man he appointed as CM. Thackeray said later. There was one more difference between 1984 and 1992 – Thackeray’s abuse against Muslims no longer needed conﬁrmation or denial by him. Thackeray’s contempt for the law and democracy has not arisen from any long and bitter ﬁght through constitutional means against an unjust system. Rane is now the Congress’ industries minister in Maharashtra. These attacks were not just the conventional looting and
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burning of property or stabbing to death. kidnapping. A tape recording of the 1988 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) mayor. It is hardly surprising that most of his corporators and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) had criminal cases registered against them. thokle (we decided to hammer them and we did). god and religion alive”. involving charges not just of rioting and assaulting public servants. attracting the most investment from around the country.
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It made little difference to him – he had never wanted to stand for election anyway. a toothless body! On a petition ﬁled by two citizens. Yet. The new capital of the new state of Maharashtra was then the most industrialised city in India. and Raote is now a Sena Member of the Legislative Council (MLC). according to police claims. He had no patience with legal means from the word go. As the former Sena mayor and later Member of Parliament put it: Thokaichey hotey. Thane had been the Sena’s early triumph – it emerged as the single largest party in the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) in 1967 itself. as well as those old-timers who were so integrated with their Marathi-speaking neighbours that you could not tell them apart. arrest shakha pramukh Madhukar Sarpotdar under the National Security Act. and murder. which he had launched in 1989. The 1984 riots paved the way for the Sena’s triumphant entry into Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation the next year. (he) commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims”. “like a veteran general. In 1997. Editorial after editorial in Saamna castigated Muslims as fanatic traitors. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal against this judgment without going into its merits. All this was seen on a much larger scale in the 1992-93 riots. saying that Thackeray had denied making any derogatory remarks against prophet Mohammed. To be fair. “I have slaughtered Muslims taking the sword in my hand… In one riot. and the Congress-Sena nexus.COMMENTARY
Muslims. Eyewitnesses told the Srikrishna Commission that they did not spare even handicapped boys. No action was taken against Raote by the then CM Sharad Pawar. but also of extortion. Shiv Sainiks were charged with stripping. a possibility he knew did not exist. a year after the party was launched. After all this. had him expressing displeasure at the meagre amount of Rs 5. residing in “mohallas in which ﬂowed streams of treason and poison”. however. Even Muslim Shiv Sainiks. burning and mutilating Muslim women. In 1999. stoning unarmed Muslim men to death. as well as underworld leaders Haji Mastan and Karim Lala. 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”. not the entire community. he. 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.
Mumbai. The Sena Story. the Muslim League came to the Sena’s rescue whenever voting on crucial issues took place. After the Sena took over the BMC in 1985. and throughout the long namantar agitation. 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”. Thakri Bhasha Alongside Muslims. 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. Thackeray exhorted Saamna readers with the same phrases during the Ayodhya campaign and the riots that followed the Babri Masjid demolition. 1999). the rallyists attacked an Udipi restaurant. Vaibhav Purandare’s The Sena Story details how every new city that was captured saw riots taking place: Nashik. communists became a target. Finally. Such was the man now being described as having ruled over the hearts of three generations of Shiv Sainiks for 46 years. This time. they killed the CPI’s sitting MLA from Parel. burning their homes. 2012
Thackeray was the only one to openly oppose the renaming of Marathwada University as Ambedkar University. Nanded. Anti-Muslim rhetoric – he called Muslims landyas and “green serpents” – and violence were intrinsic to the growth of the Sena. Feminist writer Vidya Bal was described as the “hijra” of the women’s liberation movement. 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. It is just that unlike south Indians. and Janata Dal president V P Singh’s paayachidasi (meaning slave/mistress).
december 1. Thackeray wondered how they were so active despite their “menstrual rags having long dried up”. the Shiv Sena had its highs and lows. and snatching it from them by any means. as he described south Indians. alongside south Indians. The most creative use of this bhasha has been against women. It is this licence given by successive governments in Maharashtra that encouraged the “Tiger” to roar and maul as he pleased. Addressing the party’s victory rally. their ﬁrst clashes were with Shiv Sainiks in Worli’s BDD chawls. His “roars” have been delivered in what his admirers describe as Thakri bhasha. 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. Aurangabad (renamed Sambhaji Nagar when the Sena came to power in 1995). In 1967. If the 1984 riots helped Thackeray capture the BMC. the Congress (O) and the Hindu Mahasabha. After the Bhiwandi riots in 1970. and began ensuring jobs for Marathi-speaking youth.COMMENTARY
became their godfather. marking the start of the Sena’s terror tactics. Muslims remained his target till the very end. similar riots helped the party capture parts of Maharashtra through the latter half of the 1980s. who refused to enter into an alliance with him till the bitter end of her political career was described as “Goregaon’s buffalo”. 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. the Swatantra Party. There was no need after that to target the yundugundus. Twenty-two years later. Like any party. desecrating Buddhist temples and Ambedkar statues. as Thackeray disillusioned his
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. But Muslims had always been anathema for Thackeray. in return for posts in important committees. the Sena was indicted by the Justice D P Madon Commission of Inquiry for its role in the Bhiwandi riots. Ambedkarite dalits. leftists were antinational. When the Dalit Panthers were formed in 1972. and raided shops of hoarders when prices of foodgrains skyrocketed. In 1987. For Thackeray. the Sena campaigned against the inclusion of the chapter “Riddles in Hinduism” in the state government’s compilation of Ambedkar’s writings and speeches. On their way out. Both Sudhir Joshi and Manohar Joshi became mayors in the BMC with Muslim League help. made Thackeray see red. Thackeray set up his Sthaniya Lok Adhikar Samitis (local people’s rights committees) in banks and government ofﬁces. the dharmyudh was against a different set of anti-nationals. Writing about CPI(Marxist) leader Ahilya Rangnekar and trade unionist Pushpa Mehta. Shiv Sainiks attacked dalits in Marathwada. CM Manohar Joshi withdrew more such cases. Amravati. The next year. and violently engineered splits in CPI unions. Krishna Desai. Shiv Sainiks attacked the Communist Party of India’s (CPI) ofﬁce in the working class area of Parel. Veteran socialist Mrinal Gore. 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. the 1992-93 riots helped the Sena capture the state in 1995. Terror Tactics The Sena’s ﬁrst rally was in 1966 in Shivaji Park. the Sena negotiated the presidentship of the Bhiwandi municipality with the township’s Muslim League. In 1970. 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. backed by the Jan Sangh. Sudhir Joshi’s victory procession was led by Thackeray and League president G M Banatwala. when the Sena came to power. As far back as 1970. After a spectacular start in 1966. who rejected Hinduism and were only too conscious of their rights. with the city burning for four days after he was arrested in 1969 (over the border row with Karnataka). the Sena’s Wamanrao Mahadik won the by-election to become the party’s ﬁrst MLA. Four months later. At the same time as they put this into practice. That is untrue. the decade 1974-84 saw a low. the ﬁrst immediately after Sena-League riots had claimed ﬁve lives in 1973. in every sense of the term. Thackeray said: “This is our dharmyudh. the Shiv Sainiks through their shakhas across the city also solved problems such as water supply. Sena leader Chhagan Bhujbal even bathed the Flora Fountain monument with gangajal after a huge dalit rally was held there on the issue. In 1988. In 1972.
was “our people are in power now”. only to return with the 1992-93 riots. He chose to render it ugly and impoverished. he had the advantage of being the son of an anti-caste reformist. especially because of the continuous targeting of its youth on terror charges. Five-Year Rule However. his ﬁve-year rule deserves attention. he could have used his power over his followers to turn Mumbai. He debased the Marathi language when he could have enriched it. His workers supported Datta Samant despite their supremo’s opposition to the textile strike led by Samant. The 1984 riots helped him bounce back. Also. Ugly and Impoverished Bal Thackeray. Even after he lost power. Yet. After Saamna received a call threatening to kill Thackeray from someone claiming to be a Bangladeshi. even those who had been in the forefront of the riots. the Sena has been kept out. the Sena-BJP regime established Thackeray as the ultimate censor. more approachable than Congress MLAs had ever been. Since then. the reaction among most Marathispeaking people. Only those with a hotline to the centre could dare to have their ﬁlms run despite his disapproval. Coming as it did two years after the 1992-93 riots where he played a leading role. cutting across classes and castes. 2012
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. like many other Marathispeaking politicians. music and drama. A section of them want to teach the Congress a lesson and give the Sena another chance. His government scrapped
the state minorities’ commission and the Urdu academy. the ﬁve-year reign of the Sena-BJP saw just one minor riot which was controlled within 48 hours. as Shah Rukh Khan did with his My Name Is Khan in 2010. But Thackeray’s government also fulﬁlled many long-standing demands of Muslims which the Congress had never cared to. As a sophisticated Marathi-speaking orator. The Sena-BJP government passed an antibigamy bill and also a bill prohibiting the slaughter of cow progeny. into one of the world’s great metropolises. The community found Sena MLAs. By the end of their rule in 1999.COMMENTARY
followers by supporting Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. a similar situation exists as did in 1995. thanks to his nephew Raj Thackeray forming his own party. came from a background rich in learning and culture. but he lost control over the BMC in 1992. already a ﬂourishing cosmopolitan city. including increasing the ﬂoor space index (FSI) for mosques. In addition to being exposed to literature.
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However. The next stage of disillusionment came ironically. when he was in charge of the state. Muslims are fed up with the Congress. When the BJP-Sena wrested power from Sharad Pawar’s Congress in early 1995. the Sena-BJP rule started off as hell for Muslims. nervous directors would show him their ﬁlms if they felt anything in their content could annoy him. he chose to use his learning and wit to destroy rather than create. Today. voters had realised that Shiv Shahi was no different from Congress rule. the Sena chief threatened that the entire Muslim community would be wiped out.