The legacy of Bal Thackeray

Raj Thackeray at Bal Thackeray's cremation Bal Thackeray was a controversial leader

What will be the legacy of India's best known right-wing Hindu leader, Bal Thackeray, who died over the weekend?

Mr Thackeray - his father anglicised his surname after William Makepeace Thackeray, English author of Vanity Fair - ran the nativist Shiv Sena party which excelled in populism and xenophobia over four decades.

He espoused a nationalism which earned him the nickname Tiger, though as writer Suketu Mehta found on a visit to his house in Mumbai "The Tiger roars only from behind the safety of his guards". (There were 179 policemen guarding his heavily fortified mansion, Mehta wrote.)

Described by Mehta as "a cross between Pat Buchanan and Charlie Chaplin's Great Dictator", Mr Thackeray was a bewildering enigma.

The charismatic cartoonist-turned politician railed against south Indians and Muslims, provoked his men to dig up cricket pitches, drank warm beer, smoked cigars, adored Adolf Hitler, hosted Michael Jackson ('Jackon is a great artist... his movements are terrific,' he once said), berated women wearing jeans and renamed Bombay.

But over the years, Mr Thackeray's sheen appeared to have lost some of its lustre and the law of diminishing returns seemed to have caught up with Shiv Sena's narrow, exclusivist politics.

The Tiger's rhetoric sounded tired, and the party's seats in state elections - despite continuing to rule the Mumbai municipality - diminished over the years. A breakaway group, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), headed by his nephew Raj Thackeray, is on the ascendant, retooling his uncle's politics and targeting north Indian migrants this time.

Loved and loathed in equal measure, Mr Thackeray will be sorely missed by legions of his dedicated cadres. But will he leave behind a lasting legacy?

Many analysts believe he will not. Populist leaders can be fickle and keep refashioning themselves to appeal to the masses. Observers also point out that the politics of fear and coercion can no longer fetch massive electoral dividends in a much scarred and fast changing and a more aware India. It is also difficult to see any Shiv Sena leader emerging who can invoke the frenzy and reverence that Mr Thackeray commanded.

If that is the case, the death of "The Tiger" brings to an end an era India will not be very proud about.

Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Basically, the only "legacy" of Thackeray is analogous to the one he left in 1972 (a party tattered then by a thumping electoral defeat) -- in other words the odour of halitosis!

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    46. The Rockabilly Red
    What on earth has this fascist's death got to do with anybody in the UK?


    Were you after a news website that doesn't cover news outside the UK? Even my local paper covers world affairs is that useless too?

    And if so why are you reading articles by the DELHI correspondent? The headline tells you it's a non-UK story, why open it let alone comment on it?

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    So, another racist dies in a foreign country. Who, outside of his distasteful supporters, actually care? What on earth has this fascist's death got to do with anybody in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Not even a single one of his rowdies came out to help at the time of Bombay blasts which happened just a mile away from his residence, so much for his nationalist movements, duh.

    He is basically the violent and murderous version of the people in Britain, America and elsewhere spreading the message that outsiders are responsible for all the problems. Remember Uganda a few decades ago, Zimbabwe?


Comments 5 of 49



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