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.
Chhagan Bhujbal, the rather pugnacious leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, first hit the limelight in 1985 when he attempted to stop Rajiv Gandhi from entering the city of his birth.
Bhujbal was then the Mayor of Bombay and belonged to the Shiv Sena. Rajiv had just been elected Prime Minister. The Congress was heading for its centenary in December that year and which better place to hold the celebrations in than the city of both his (Rajiv’s) and the Congress’s birth?
But Bhujbal was not having any of that. “What has the Prime Minister or his party done for the city?” Bhujbal queried. “Why should we allow the invasion of lakhs of Congress workers into the city only for them to leave behind a lot of dirt and mess?”
It seemed touch and go for a while and, in a way, that brought about the first major Central grant for infrastructure in the city – Rs 100 crore announced by Rajiv ahead of the centenary celebrations. That pacified the Shiv Sena and the Congress celebrations went ahead on schedule.
The next time Bhujbal made the headlines was a few months later during his continuing stint as Mayor when he “purified” the martyrs memorial at Flora Fountain (Hutatma Chowk) after Dalit groups had allegedly soiled it with their presence during a huge rally in support of the Maharashtra government’s publication of `Riddles of Hinduism’ from the collected works of Dr B R Ambedkar during the latter’s birth centenary. Bhujbal belongs to the Other Backward Classes and it came as a surprise to many that he should have used gallons of `holy water’ to purify the monument. But as he later told me, “I took the water from the Pyrkes restaurant (now defunct) nearby to clean up the mess. Now Pyrkes is an Irani restaurant, so if I was seeking to purify the memorial why should I be asking them for water? I would have brought it from Banaras. It was just a statement for public hygiene.”
Over the years he kept making the headlines — like being the first saffron leader, even ahead of any from the BJP, to publicly praise Nathuram Godse and call into question Mahatma Gandhi. But when I questioned him again he shrugged it off saying it was not his conviction. But that Shiv Sena leaders had to say such things that went against their grain to satisfy their supreme leader (Bal Thackeray).
Thackeray, at the time, was a formidable politician and ran terror through the masses of his supporters for even daring to defy him on any count. So Bhujbal was indeed brave to exit the Shiv Sena with a big bang in 1991. He had justification – the Sena was largely a party limited to Bombay and Bhujbal claimed that its leaders did not even know the roads leading out of the metropolis to other parts of Maharashtra until he built up the party to the grassroots in other cities. Even the Sena’s saffron standard was designed by him. “They did not even know how to cut the flag, they destroyed yards of saffron silk by just cutting triangles. I taught them the reverse cut that made the standard the Shiv Sena’s own.”
Moreover, the Shiv Sena was never able to win more than one seat in the Maharashtra assembly at a time upto the 1990s. Even while he was Mayor, Bhujbal was the lone member of the Shiv Sena in the assembly between 1985 and 1990. He again made the headlines when during an expose of then chief minister Sharad Pawar’s alleged involvement in a land dereservation scandal, he brought a banner into the House with a black band on his arm and tape across his mouth. The banner read simply,“Bhookhandache Shrikhand’’. Bhookhand, meaning plots of land. And by shrikhand he meant Pawar had swallowed up all those plots. He was thrown out of the House for that day.
So it was but natural that when the Shiv Sena, in alliance with the BJP, got 85 seats in 1990, Bhujbal should expect to be rewarded for keeping the Sena standard flying through those lonesome years and be named leader of the opposition. But, then, his arch rival Manohar Joshi, who had until then failed to win even a single grassroots election and been only a nominated member of the legislative council, arm twisted Thackeray into giving him that job. Bhujbal was pacified by Thackeray with the promise that the post of leader of the opposition would be rotated among many notables for five years – just as Thackeray had rotated the mayor’s office among various of his close supporters.
When Thackeray reneged on his promise, Bhujbal decided enough was enough and called it quits. But the Shiv Sena was a much feared wild animal in those days and Bhujbal’s decision was made at great risk to his life. He went underground and nothing Thackeray did – including post lookouts at all airports, railway stations and bus stops in Maharashtra – could smoke him out. Sharad Pawar offered him complete protection and days after Bhujbal defected to the Congress with his supporters during the winter session of the assembly in Nagpur, Bhujbal was sworn in as minister and safely ensconced behind a security wall.
Trouble came calling at his door a few years later when he lost the assembly election from his traditional Mazgaon constituency to the Shiv Sena in 1995 and was reduced to mere leader of the opposition in the legislative council, with a Sena government in Mantralaya. Thackeray decided to exact his revenge and sent his goons to allegedly kill Bhujbal. When the killers arrived, Bhujbal darted into a dark corner of his house and stood against the wall, trembling until the attackers left after breaking all the furniture and glass on failing to find him.
‘’Every morning that I leave home, I tell my wife be prepared for a strange knock on the door — I might return in a janaza (hearse) that evening. Today could be my last sunrise or sunset,’’ he said after the attack. “But now that I have survived, I know what I must do with my second birth.’’
And that was to demystify Bal Thackeray and expose him for the coward that he really was. Bhujbal revealed many inside stories to the public which showed Thackeray up to be essentially a bully with no courage to follow up on his diktats that could cause risk to his life or liberty. ‘’If I do not expose him, there will soon be temples to Bal Thackeray and it will be very difficult to combat the goondaism of the Shiv Sena,’’ he said. Today, the beginning of the downfall of the Shiv Sena can be traced to Bhujbal’s personalized campaign against Bal Thackeray.
Bhujbal’s entire political career, however, has been about hopeless options –: he always found himself between a rock and a very hard place. When Pawar split the Congress in 1999, he went into hiding for a few days to think out his options. He had been making an emotional pitch for Sonia Gandhi, painting her as a grieving widow raising her ‘kachcha bachchas’ (little kids) under trying circumstances and now Pawar wanted to split the Congress on the basis of her foreign origins. He thought it would ve immoral to attack Sonia Gandhi on these grounds and under her extreme circumstances.But he knew the local Congress leaders hated him for ursurping their positions of authority (like leader of the opposition and housing minister in the Pawar cabinet). He would once again be at risk from attacks by the Shiv Sena and may not get the protection that Pawar offered him. So he reluctantly sided with Pawar and even became the president of the Maharashtra unit of the NCP.
When the Congress and the NCP came together to form a government later that year, he ended up as deputy chief minister and home minister – the pinnacle of his success to date. At the time it suited Pawar to bestow such high office on Bhujbsl. He was OBC and not expected to get above his station in life. Moreover, Pawar feared other leaders in his own party, most of who were Maratha and could have used this dual authority to grow their own roots and entrench themselves in positions of power as Marathas have always been the ruling class of Maharashtra — most chief ministers have been from this community.
But Bhujbal became a very strong home minister nonetheless, so Pawar cut him down to size by taking away the home department from him the next time though reinstating him as deputy chief minister. Bhujbal now held the public works department – and he continued to hold it through his stints in government which , seemingly, has now got him into trouble.
Despite not belonging to the ruling class, Bhujbal began to appear larger than life and in subsequent years Pawar was left with no option but to put him down again and again in order to protect the turf for his own nephew Ajit Pawar. Although, in the meantime, Bhujbal made up with Thackeray, politics in Maharashra had changed beyond
recognition by then and he could not have rejoined the Shiv Sena or any other political party, including the Congress. With the NCP his only option, he swallowed his pride and accepted all his `demotions’ without protest. When in 2014 Pawar, facing a dearth of suitable candidates, decreed that all his ministers must contest the Lok Sabha polls, most Marathas defied Pawar and laughed in his face. Bhujbal was the only minister, apart from one other person, who meekly accepted . Of course, he lost the Lok Sabha seat from Nasik previously held by his nephew Sameer Bhujbal. The highlight of his campaign then was a ridicule of Narendra Modi’s exaggerated claims – imitating Modi’s nasal twang Bhujbal invoked the by now famous `mitron’ and informed them that in Gujarat you could even extract milk from not just the `bhains’ but also the bhainsa (male buffaloe), among other things. That video went viral during the polls and is not something Modi is likely to forget in a hurry.
Bhujbal did win back his own assembly seat in October that year but the writing was on the wall in capital letters, clear to him when the NCP announced that it would be supporting the BJP in Maharashtra. Modi had declared the NCP to be the “Naturally Corrupt Party’’ of India and the BJP cannot be seen as cohorting with corrupt politicians. The new Maharashtra government has already announced a series of investigations against ministers in the previous government and among them is Pawar’s nephew. It would be disastrous to the Pawar dynasty should that investigation go forward and Ajit be indicted. But the BJP will not be satisfied with no action at all on this front.
This is where Bhujbal now has to offer himself up once again as the sacrificial goat – he is enough of a big fish to satisfy both Modi and the BJP and make it look determined to root out corruption. Then he did make fun of Modi recently and of Pawar years ago and both do not forgive slights easily. If Ajit pawar’s case is lost amid the duly diverted attention, the BJP gets to keep its image intact and at the same time balance the Shiv Sena off against the NCP, given that Uddhav Thackeray too is proving to be a troublesome ally.
Now under investigation not just for his role in the scam relating to the new Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi but also various land deals over the years, Bhujbal, a vegetable vendor who rose to great heights and a multi million rupee fortune, may have nowhere to run. “Where will I go at this age and point in my career?’’ he had said when asked if he woud be rejoining the Shiv Sena. But he may have to tell his wife again to expect another strange knock at the door — this time from sleuths of the Anti Corruption Bureau, come to arrest him and throw him into the slammer.
It could be sometime before he could see a sunrise or a sunset again.
….one might well ask. Does not a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Not when it comes to the Thackerays, however. They should actually spell their name as be T-h-a-k-r-e but then they will lose the unique colonial flavour to their name if they switched to the native spelling.
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
Years ago after a rather scintillating interview with Bal Thackeray, I thought I had a sort of `scoop’ of the century. The Shiv Sena was ruling Maharashtra in alliance with the BJP and the 13 day government of Atal Behari Vajpayee had just reinstated the Srikrishna commission probing the 1992-93 Bombay riots, which had earlier been dismissed by the state government. Thackeray was livid. He sent for me when I called him for a reaction – it was worth every minute spent at Matoshree to watch him letting off steam. I recorded the entire interview. Read more
After the BJP wins nearly a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it seems a bit much for BJP leader Vijay Goel to threaten migrants from these states with deportation/prevention of free movement into Delhi – it reminds me of the time when Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had made a similar statement soon after his party came to power in Maharashtra. Read more
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
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
For a long time I had been stating that Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray would never join hands with Narendra Modi because in that move lay his destruction. I was trolled furiously by the saffron brigade who called me all sorts of names but now finally Raj has put the stamp on speculation by journalists for months – and I guess just the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi has not a little to do with it. Read more
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