Book Review - Hindu Hriday Samrat
By Suraj Kumar Thube
21 March, 2016
There is normally a sense that a biography of a towering personality, especially after his or her death, suddenly generates some sort of excitement among a section of readers . It happens to gain much traction if it is to be a politician for some reason. Sujata Anandan's captivating new book titled " Hindu Hriday Samrat" on the enigma that was Balasaheb Thackeray, falls in that list. With a wealth of experience of tracking the rise and fall of the Shiv Sena over the years, the writer does a fine job of reproducing certain key incidents and events of Bal Thackeray's life and the overall impact it had on shaping "Mumbai's" identity in general.
This is not one of those cumbersome biographies which strictly adhere to a chronology driven narrative but keeps going back and forth with commendable ease that makes it an intriguing read. More than stuffing the book with huge but mundane information, it focuses on few events that changed Mumbai forever, applying the method of a horizontal expansion of academic analysis instead of a vertical one. It begins with the scarcely dwelled upon issue of the factors that led to the Shiv Sena's formation, drawing much of what Madhav Deshpande, one of the main architects of the party, had to say about the same. The chaotic and unplanned nature of transformation of Shiv Sena- the movement to Shiv Sena - the party is what gets revealed in the initial chapters. This follows with a few interesting topics like the one which talks about the inheritance of the name "Thackeray" by Bal Thackeray's father from the love and admiration he had for the famous Indian born British novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. The common Marathi surname "Thakree" was too mainstream and there had to be something that would distinguish "us" from "them". Other incidents like his perpetual hatred of the Communists, for the firm hold they had on Bombay mills and of the South Indians, for their disproportionate numbers in the higher echelons of the society, are written in a brief, lucid and compact manner. ( How Thackeray was always the second best to his contemporary R.K. Laxman, before he joined 'Marmik', is a thoroughly interesting read.) This sets the ball rolling for the rest of the book which describes him as a fiery orator who being a stubborn, head strong, foul mouthed demagogic leader encapsulated the Maratha minds for decades. If this was how Thackeray was portrayed by the masses, the inner voice of Madhav Deshpande describes him as no more than a pussy-cat who was deeply afraid of two things - facing the judiciary and getting killed for his provocative speeches.
The writer persists with a few points at length, that of Thackeray being a stooge of the Congress, as a mere pawn to obliterate the Communists and thereby consolidate the votes of the Maratha community, mostly those that had migrated from eastern Maharashtra to Bombay in search of jobs. The most humiliating period for Thackeray was when his party was called as " Vasant Sena" by his rivals, for having close links with Congress stalwarts like Vasantdada Patil and Vasantrao Naik. The schism between MPCC ( Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee) and the BRCC ( Bombay Regional Congress Committee) was the one that paved the way for the rise and consolidation of this "son of the soils" movement. The writer unequivocally claims that had there not been the Congress with its clandestine political interests, the chances of Shiv Sena remaining a recognisable political threat in the state would have become bleak.
The second point that gets a lion's share in the book is the four and a half year period that the Shiv Sena was in power, along with the BJP, since 1995. Till this time, Bal Thackeray's "Maratha agenda" has mellowed down, only to be overtaken by a broader ideology of Hindutva. The author neatly traces this shift to the early 1980's which continued to be its main ideological stand. His overt support to the Babri Masjid demolition and his complicit role in the Bombay riots ( as brought out by the Srikrishna Commission report that is now gathering dust) are testimony to this subtle yet pronounced change. The politics of "name changing" of Bombay to Mumbai and also the fiasco of Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar & Osmanabad to Dharashiv dominated the early period of that government. Ironically, this period of assertion of the party in general and Bal Thackeray in particular, saw a perceptible decline in his popularity as few long estranged members made their exit from the party. Chaggan Bhujbal, the Dalit face of the party was the first one to leave followed up by prominent leaders like Narayan Rane and his own nephew, the self proclaimed political heir of the original tiger, Raj Thackeray. Things were never to be the same again for the Sena as the tiger was seemingly losing his personal battle against health issues.
It can perhaps be said that the author writes a premature epitaph for the party, especially when one looks at its current resurgence that has led it to be a prominent ally in the present government. Another aspect that could be critiqued is the repetitiveness about certain events and incidents, given the fact that most of them were articles written for certain newspapers and magazines at some point of time. However, apart from these minor aspects, the book is commendable in the way it makes it reader friendly with minimum jargon and more unknown or less talked about facts about the man who continues to remain an enigma even today. As Vijay Tendulkar puts it in a certain context that he had no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. To understand someone who used to abhor politics and politicians in his early days to the one who became known by a very peculiar style of politics, Sujata Anandan's book meticulously provides those rare insights of the life and times of Bal Thackeray.
Suraj Kumar Thube is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is interested in Indian politics and Indian political thought. He spends most of his time reading books, playing football and listening to Hindustani classical music.