A couple of years ago, when there was a leadership struggle within the Shiv Sena, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi who wanted control of the party just as he had exercised his authority over its founder Bal Thackeray and manipulated the Sena tiger all his life, had taunted Uddhav Thackeray in the most demeaning terms. In the context of a memorial to Thackeray, he had said, “Had it been Balasaheb wanting a memorial for his father and the government had been playing fast and loose with him over grant of land for the purpose, he would have created a ruckus and flooded the streets with Shiv Sainiks. The government would have been unnerved into promptly granting him the land he wanted… That kind of courage is lacking in today’s leadership.’’

Uddhav had not reacted at all – unlike his father who would have roared and raged and threatened Joshi with dire consequences for virtually calling him a coward. But some months later he responded by denying Joshi a ticket to the Lok Sabha that he had wanted and completely marginalised him giving Joshi no role in the party functioning and virtually rendering him unwanted and undesired by anyone in the party.

But as the Shiv Sena completes fifty yes of its existence today (June 19), I cannot help but note that Bal Thackeray seems to have shrunk not just in spirit but also in size – on the posters that the party has put up on the occasion. While earlier he was always larger than life, now he occupies equal room as his son and political heir and Uddhav seems to have finally completely taken over the party and molded it in his own image.

Of course, there is no flooding the streets with Shiv Sainiks as Joshi would have wished but that toning down is not necessarily a bad thing for the party – and mor particularly for the people. But the worrying issue for the party is that while it may now be a watered down version of what Balasaheb’s party was, it has few ideas beyond what its founder had had at the establishment of the party in 1966 and it is thrashing about for a raison d’etre in the 21st century.

In the absence of such ideas, however, the party continues to do what it does best – oppose the government. But now it is no longer the question of opposing an ideologically opposite party. It is strange that the Shiv Sena is getting away with calling Narendra Modi names and trashing every policy of the government both at the Centre and in the state. The party took particular delight in declaring that the Modi magic does not work any more when the BJP lost a series of elections every where except in Assam, it poked fun at the BJP’s self-congratulation at its Assam win, it trashed Modi’s Pakistan policy and, in the state, it is constantly needling Devendra Fadnavis at his inability to control the drought situation in Marathwada, bitterly opposing his alleged attempt to reduce the influence of Marathi speaking people by breaking up the state into several parts including Vidarbha (which would then become largely Hindi speaking) and Marathwada (which would then be Dakhani or Urdu speaking). It is strange to say the least because all the time the Shiv Sena is an equal partner in both governments and while one understands the dependence of the Fadnavis government on the party, one wonders why Modi stands for such nonsense – more fun is poked at his government by the Shiv Sena than by the Congress or other parties on the left.

However, I believe the turning point in both the alliance and the Shiv Sena’s existentialist crisis will come only after elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The Sena does not care about ruling at the Centre or in the state but control of the civic body is all important to the party which has not grown beyond four or five urban centres, the most important of them being Bombay which continues to be it core constituency.

But even if the Sena were to win the BMC — and it has a fair chance considering that its closest rival is the Congress which is so ridden with factions that it might be unable to put up a concerted fight despite the best efforts of its city president Sanjay Nirupam, there is nothing the Sena will be left with at the next elections to the parliament or the assembly if the BJP goes ahead with its determined effort to marginalise the party so that it ceases its dependence on the whims and fancies of the Thackerays and is able to pursue its own policies and agendas without the Sena becoming a stumbling block – like in the separation of Vidarbha from Maharashtra. But even though the party has now taken on the personality of its president Uddhav Thackeray and may have reduced Balasaheb in size and spirit, I notice in substance it continues to follow the outdated policies of it founder. The question the party must ask , however, is if in a half century, the Marathi manoos has not evolved at all and is still fighting for Class 3 and Class 4 jobs or has sunk even lower. For while Bal Thackeray was fighting for clerical jobs for his supporters, today’s Sena is in conflict with north Indian taxi drivers and peanut vendors – jobs that no self-respecting Maharashtrian wants as they take their place alongside the best across a globalised economy.

The fight of the Shiv Sena continues to be the fights of the 1960s and 1970s, shorn of violence and bloodshed and that has contributed to a sense of ennui and lack of conviction among the people that the Sena has their best interests at heart.

I believe, therefore, that despite its possible victory at the BMC elections, the Shiv Sena’s GenNext leaders will have to think fast on their feet and evolve into a party of governance if they do not wish to be left behind in the next half century. Meanwhile the ghost of Bal Thackeray will continue to haunt the Sena even if it wishes to reduce the tiger in both size and plasma.

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This is not a plug for my year-old book, `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever’. However, just two days before Yakub Memon’s hanging a literary agent mentioned to me how chilling he had found the chapter where I compared the stories of a Shiv Sainik who had participated in the 1992-93 Bombay riots and a young Muslim who had been caught in those riots and lost practically everything.

Then, on the day of Yakub’s hanging, my former editor called to ask me to find him a blast victim and a riot victim for a similar comparison of their stories for a popular television show. It was very easy to talk to survivors of the blasts who are only too willing to tell their tale – embittered or magnanimous in their suffering, they are not shackled by any concerns in recounting their stories.

But when I called Mansoor Ali Khan, the man mentioned in my book, I had to take a reality check. I had had to search long and hard while I was writing my book to find a riot victim who did not fit the typical mould of a ghettoised Muslim with a story that might be similar to that of many others of his or her kind. I was quite excited to discover Mansoor – he was not living in a ghetto at the time of the riots, he was studying at a prestigious south Bombay college, wanted to become a pilot in the Indian Air Force and was the captain of his club’s cricket team where all other members were Hindu.

The riots changed his life overnight – his family was lucky enough to escape with their lives in the nick of time. He went from being a fellow Indian to his cricket team to being just a Muslim and had to leave everything behind including his old life to find shelter in a Muslim ghetto. I was apprehensive about approaching him, wondering if he would agree to go on record but he had no qualms in inviting me to his home — he had moved from a mixed locality to an exclusively Muslim housing colony but everyone in his family, including his mother, were willing to tell me their story, hoping someone would hear their tale and offer them compensation that was long due and thus far not forthcoming.

So when I called him that evening, I thought he would be 0nly too willing to go on television and let the world know. But I was very wrong. Now he did not want to draw attention to himself. “When you came to my house and we spoke for hours together, India was a different country. There was hope and there was confidence – in the government and the people. We thought that sooner or later someone will cut through the red tape and hear us out. Now it is different. The country has changed. There is no one who will hear our voices. They will instead single us out and hound us to go to Pakistan.’’

“Oh, but they hound me too,” I protested.

“There is a difference,” he said. “And I don’t think I need to explain that to you, sister.”

Then he sent me a message in apology for turning down my request. I found it heart rending – main sirf ek baat kehna chahta hoon ke ALLAH (capitals his) jise log BHAGWAAN bhi kehte hain woh hamesha HAQ yaane SACH ke saath hota hai. Usko kisi daleel ya saboot ki zarurat nahin woh sab jaanta hai. God bless u, sister — ek baat aur, Hamare Hindustan ko kisi ki buri nazar lag gayi hai.

I was speechless and teary eyed for hours afterward.

It was the same story as I made call after call to locate riot victims for my former editor who might be willing to talk. At last I succeeded but even this survivor agreed to do the interview after a few caveats.

The experience has only confirmed my belief in the travesty of justice offered to riot victims, not by the courts but by successive governments and investigative agencies. I remember the officer in charge of investigating the Bombay riots was himself an accused and even then as a young reporter I knew the investigation would go no further. It is only the Srikrishna Commission which came as a safety valve for the affected victims to vent their feelings of injustice against the state and it was a great relief that Justice Srikrishna could nail the guilt of the perpetrator of the riots – Bal Thackeray. I have recounted the story of the journalist who mounted an unknowing sting on Thackeray during the riots at his home in Matoshree and brought to us how Thackeray provoked his Shiv Sainiks to burn Bombay and kill Muslims in large numbers from the safety of his home, and then later tried to shift the blame on then union defence minister Sharad Pawar. Had it not been for Yuvraj Mohite’s affidavit before the Srikrishna Commission, the truth would never have been known – and it is just as well that Mohite loved to tell the tale. For the Sena left no stone unturned to ferret him out from his hiding and kill him to prevent him from turning up in court.

But no government took action against Thackeray. The Srikrishna Commission was dismissed by Chief Minister Manohar Joshi when the Shiv Sena came to power in 1995 but was reinstated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his thirteen day tenure in the hope that that would reduce the BJP’s untouchability, even as it was in search of allies to make up its numbers in parliament. Justice Srikrishna submitted the report to the Joshi government in 1998 and while it was not expected that that government would act against its own supremo, even the Congress and the NCP which came to power a year later did not think it worth taking action against the perpetrators of the riots.

Nine hundred people were killed in the riots (less than 300 in the blasts which were a retaliatian for the riots). Thousands of FIRs were launched yet only one man was ever punished – former Shiv Sena MP Madhukar Sarpotdar who got a year in jail for possessing arms and ammunitions in a notified area during the riots. For the same crime Sanjay Dutt has gone to jail for five years – where is the notion of justice for all and injustice to none enshrined in our Constitution?

I do not blame the Courts for any of this, the judges have done their jobs to the best of their capacity, But in this country now you are a terrorist if you are Muslim and a patriot if you are a Hindu committing the same acts of killing innocents and bombing mosques and shrines and trains and buses.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is way off the mark when he complains that the UPA coined the term `Hindu terrorist’ and destroyed the reputation of the country. In fact, I believe the emergence of saffron terrorism, though not to be condoned was a great safety valve which came out of the blue to the rescue of the minorities who were otherwise all dismissed as terrorists, negating LK Advani’s earlier very arrogant statement – all Muslims may not be terrorists but why are all terrorists Muslims?

That no longer holds valid but now it is high time that the scale of justice are tilted to the balanced position once again from the heavy tilt in favour of rioters and home-grown terrorists from the majority community. A terrorist is a terrorist, a victim is a victim, his or her religion does not matter. What’s sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. Otherwise people like Mansoor will suffer silently until the faultlines explode and all of us be imperilled by the lava of that volcano just waiting to burst sooner rather than later. We will all be scorched.

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There was a time in the last decade of the 1990s when Bal Thackeray was ranting and screaming blue murder at the Atal Behari Vajpayee government at the Centre. Vajpayee had taken a bus to Lahore (and broght back some goats on it), had invited Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to Agra, had attempted to build bridges to the minority Muslim community and, at one time, even donned a typical green turban.

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I am by no yardstick a saffronist but I am with the late Bal Thackeray on this one.

Writing in my book ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena Changed Mumbai forever’ I had said that there were a lot of things that Thackeray said which one could never agree with. But there was no challenging the truth of some of his statements. Thackeray always avowed that he was not against the Abdul Hamids of this country, only against the Dawood Ibrahims. Read more

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As the reconciliation talks between the Shiv Sena and the BJP got underway on Friday, my colleague Sayli Mankikar tweeted rather tongue-in-cheek – reporters hanging outside Matoshree with Odomos. Last time many of them had caught dengue! Read more

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What a state of flux Maharashtra’s politics seems to be in – I have always heard that there can be no permanent friends or enemies in politics but here, on the western shores of India, the dividing lines seem to be etched in acid with no room for crossovers. Read more

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I must begin by disclosing my vested interest in writing this particular blog post. Some might call it a plug (which in a way it is) but I wished to familiarise a wider readership with Bal Thackeray and what he really was and meant to Bombay and Maharashtra – and that is why I wrote the book “Hindu Hriday Samrat : How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever’’. Read more

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Does anyone take Anna Hazare seriously anymore? Read more

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It is a historical fact and long forgotten bit of history but then history has a way of repeating itself if we forget it, don’t they say? Friends are telling me that the 1960s are too far back in time and have no bearing on today’s situation but those who have lived through that era recall the similarities between the two movements and how the Shiv Sena had come as a breath of fresh air in the jaded post-Independence era as AAP has done so many decades later. Read more

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Twenty-one years ago this day– December 6, 1992– is etched in my memory with an acid pen. Read more

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