(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
Last week, the country lost a man of great influence. A man who ended up changing the politics of his home state forever. A man who didn’t need to win an election to make the government apparatus bend to his diktats. But enough about Ponty Chadha!
In a just world, the demise of such an important man would be all everyone would focus on. However, if you turned on the teevee, all you heard about was the death of an old, obscure politician called Bal Thackeray. News anchors couldn't stop talking about how great this man was. Even Arnab Goswami, who shows his independence by interrupting politicians of all political parties, suspended his usual persona to show us his gentle side. You could see that he was holding back his own tears while he was talking about the passing of this great messiah. After all, this was the person on whom Arnab had based the character he plays every night on India’s #1 variety comedy show, Times Newshour. In fact, perhaps for the first time in its history, everyone on Indian television seemed to be in agreement that the country had indeed lost its most magnanimous leader. Perhaps such a tragedy merits such unifying gestures. Even the members of the Hindi Film Industry – a group of people who cannot even agree on a name for their industry – were steadfast and united in their praise for the departed. The last time India had been united like this, Emperor Ashok was earning his stripes and establishing his candidacy for lending his name to the National Emblem. If there was any doubt to his greatness, would millions of people gathered for his funeral? If there is anything history has taught us it’s that if millions of people worship a person, he can never be evil.
I then realized that I should get out of my ignorant stupor and use the Google machine to find out more about such a dear leader. But I was shocked and astounded! There was no mention of the Bal Thackeray everyone was talking about on teevee. But there was lots of information about another person named Bal Thackeray, who lived in Mumbai too and wasn’t the omnipotent force for good that the our Bal Thackeray was. In fact, I couldn’t find any information about the original Bal Thackeray. The person Pritish Nandy called one of his ‘finest friends’ with whom he could always enjoy great conversation along with a warm glass of beer and whose death made Lata Mangeshkar feel orphaned. Someone seemed to have scrubbed all the archives of the news reports which point towards the contributions made by the original Bal Thackeray to the development of the country that his supporters evangelize about.
Though I must admit that reading about what Bal Thackeray’s namesake had been upto was quite a horrifying experience. He appears to have used Balasahab’s name to create a boilerplate for anyone who wants to rule through hatred and fear. Start by creating ‘an other’ by misleading a large group of people (united only through a single attribute which they share due to the accident of birth) into believing how their share of happiness is being stolen by another large group of people (united only through an attribute which they share due to the accident of birth). Pretend to be the messiah who will save them from this group and their usurping tendencies. Beat some members of the villainous group but do nothing to help your so-called own people. Insulate yourself from any criticism by convincing people that anyone who dares to question you is insulting not only the proud traditions of your people, but is spitting on the legacy of the great ancient king himself and must be put down like the diseased-ridden animal they are. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Bal Thackeray is not dead. He will live through every instance of an innocent teenager being arrested for daring to share his opinion on the Internet. He will live through each time a mob ransacks a home/office/clinic because they didn’t like what the people residing/working there said. He will live through every work of art which is prevented from being shown to the public because it hurt someone’s made up sentiments. He will live through every filmmaker who goes to the house of a politician with an apology for their supposed transgression and a request to call off their goons.
Bal Thackeray made sure Gotham city will always have a Bane.
Along with a lot of dark nights.