If terrorism is politics by striking fear in the hearts of the people, did Yakub instil more fear among a larger section of Indian society than the Shiv Sena supremo? The Justice Srikrishna Commission held Bal Thackeray squarely responsible for the anti-Muslim violence that stalked Bombay’s streets in 1992-93. This was the same man who had infamously taken “credit” for the Babri Masjid demolition by boasting that “my boys did it”. Despite this overwhelming evidence of his culpability in the entire chain of events that led to the 1993 Bombay blasts, here was one man whose party not only went on to rule Maharashtra but whose body was also draped in the national flag and given a State funeral.
Had this man been stopped before the Babri Masjid was demolished, there would perhaps have been no Bombay riots and, therefore, no Bombay blasts. Yet, it was Yakub who was condemned as an “anti-national” while the late Thackeray continues to be hailed by some as a “national hero”. What does this tell us about the nature of the Indian State? Is it really secular and democratic as it claims to be and what the Constitution requires it to be? Is this really a country where everyone is equal in the eyes of the law?
The killing of Yakub forces us to revisit the crimes of the man who was key to some of the most brutal acts of terror in this country. Why is Thackeray, the cartoonist turned- rabble-rouser, not counted among the most dreaded of “terrorists” and as one of those who contributed the most to killing the idea of India?
Thackeray stands testimony to the discriminatory attitude of the justice system in India. The “collective conscience” of the political and social elites was never outraged over his culpability in the killing of nearly 600 Muslims in the Bombay riots. It was never outraged over the violence unleashed by Shiv Sainiks against south Indians and north Indians living in Bombay, which forced many of them to leave the city. And, instead of being treated as a criminal enterprise on the basis of its actions, the Shiv Sena has been accepted by the Indian State as a “mainstream” political party ever since it was floated by Thackeray on the day of the Hindu festival Dussehra in 1966.
The Shiv Sena tapped into the frustration and inchoate rage of unemployed Marathi youth against the “system” and yoked them to its project of emerging as a party that would dominate politics in Maharashtra, especially Bombay. The party’s genesis was as an organised gang of goons who used to be hired by factory owners to attack workers and their leaders, especially from the textile industry that once dominated the economy of Maximum City.
Like all right-wing leaders, the Shiv Sena supremo never dared to question the big industrialists and his organisation always worked to further their interests. He saw trade union leaders and communists who propagated the politics of class struggle as “anti-nationals”. No wonder the Congress, which was in power then, colluded with the Shiv Sainiks in dealing with the “labour menace” when the worker’s movement was proving to be a major challenge to its domination of the political scene.
Thackeray’s venom against the worker’s movement led to the killing of prominent communist leader Krishna Desai, who had played a key role in the struggle for the rights of mill workers in and around Bombay. With the help of the then Congress government and its police force, Thackeray succeeded in humbling the trade union movement in the state. That is how the Congress was responsible for abetting the Shiv Sena’s growth as a terrifying force that went on to target the Dalit movement as well. That, too, was at the behest of the Congress, which was threatened by the political mobilisation of the most oppressed castes.
All organisations of the Hindu Right have one thing in common: their politics is anchored in anti-Muslim vitriol. The Shiv Sainiks, too, trained their guns on Muslims as early as the late 1960s. Thackeray minced no words against Muslims and denounced them as “anti-nationals”. Muslim-inhabited areas were scornfully called “mini-Pakistan”. There was little doubt about Thackeray’s role in the anti- Muslim massacre on 7-8 May 1970 that came to be known as the Bhiwandi riots, but no one bothered to bring him to book.
In the following decades, no “mainstream” political party found the guts to take on the Shiv Sena and the State allowed it to thrive despite its politics of bullying and violence. This led to the gruesome anti-Muslim massacre unleashed by it in Bombay after the Babri Masjid demolition. The nation watched Thackeray openly take pride in the butchery committed by his “boys”. And he continued to rule Bombay from his palatial residence called Matoshree even after the Justice Srikrishna Commission indicted him for his role in the violence that raged in Bombay from December 1992 to January 1993, and led to the bombings in March ‘93.
The Hindu Right has never accepted that India belongs to people from many religions. Failing to identify people like Bal Thackeray as “terrorists” even as those like Yakub Memon and Afzal Guru are hanged in the name of fighting terror, the Indian State has put the spirit of the Constitution and the pluralistic ethos it enshrines at great risk. Indeed, there is no way the fight against terror can make any real headway unless the State stops honouring those who follow in Thackeray’s footsteps and continue to threaten the very idea of India as a secular democracy. And we would be failing in our duty as citizens unless we bring up Thackeray’s “terrorism” every time the State kills a Yakub Memon in cold blood.