Vinod Mubayi


Since independence, there have been two examples of what can be termed the authentic face of Indian fascism.  The first, Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena leader, Marathi chauvinist par excellence and self-proclaimed admirer of Hitler who dubbed himself “Hindu hriday samrat” (emperor of Hindu hearts) died, thankfully, a few weeks ago; the other, Narendra Modi, coordinator of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 is, unfortunately, still around.


Thackeray’s politics originated in the 1960s with attacks on south Indians who, in his view, were taking jobs away from Marathi youth, but his initial focus was mainly on communists who had been leaders for a long time in the working class movements and trade unions in then Bombay.  These attacks, encouraged openly by some of Bombay’s capitalist titans and covertly by the Congress party, culminated in the murder in 1970 of Krishna Desai, the Communist Party of India trade union leader and member of Maharashtra’s legislative assembly, who was stabbed to death by a local Shiv Sena pramukh, a bootlegger and part of the Bombay underworld.  In fact, Thackeray gathered a whole set of underworld thugs in his organization to perform the work of intimidating his opponents and practice street violence that became a hallmark of Shiv Sena’s modus operandi.  Later, Shiv Sena alliances with BJP and on several occasions with Congress were also based, to some extent, on the Sena’s rent-a-thug value as a means of enforcing physical intimidation of opponents during election periods.


From the south Indians the Shiv Sena’s focus of attack shifted to other communities who constituted Bombay’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ethos, the Gujaratis, and then the Biharis, and Bhaiyyas (from U.P).  Lately, the Sena also began attacking the people from parts of north-eastern India.  But Thackeray’s greatest target of attack, which he realized could gain him a following in many parts of India, was Muslims whom he began to denounce and then attack in the crudest terms.  He jumped onto the Hindutva bandwagon, openly supported the demolition of the Babri mosque and his mobs were responsible for the worst anti-Muslim atrocities as pointed out in the extensive report of the Justice Srikrishna Commission, which held Thackeray personally responsible for directing attacks on innocent Muslims in Bombay neighborhoods.


How this one person was able to mobilize the worst aspects of Indian regionalism and wed it to religion to develop one of the lowest, most retrograde form of identity and ethnic politics imaginable needs introspection just as much as Europe needed to retrospect on how an unemployed, marginal rabble-rouser called Hitler was able to capture the politics of a culturally and economically advanced nation like Germany.

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