If you live in the jungle and if you’re a deer, what would you do to avoid being feasted upon by the tiger? You would make peace with it, right? That is exactly what most celebrities had been doing with the late tiger of Maharashtra — Balasaheb Thackeray.
Only a certain kind of pugnacity can spark a complete surrender of power and a never-before public display of admiration by a human being towards another human being. Power does not crop up in vacuum. It is always derived from somewhere; has its roots somewhere. Bal Thackeray reveled in the support and admiration of many illiberal marathis.
Constituted in 1966, Shiv Sena led by Thackeray never hid its intentions of sectarianism or that of Marathi nationalism. Shiv Sena, under Thackeray’s command, had launched movements against people from southern India working in Maharashtra, somehow unaffecting his relation with a former fellow cartoonist and close friend R. K. Laxman. Later, embracing the concept of Hindutva, it went against minorities, especially the Muslims, going out demolishing the Babri Masjid as easily as going out on a picnic. And lately, it has been attacking north Indians in Maharashtra in order to ‘ensure’ job security for local Marathis.
However, its Hindutva policy might have found itself an alliance in the BJP, but its anti-north Indian stand might not have a happy ally on its side, as BJP has its major vote bank in the north. However, Thackeray had always been somebody who was open about his ideology and actions irrespective of the consequences, which weren’t many anyway.
So what is it that makes most celebrities fall in line and sing praises of the old tiger even when people are aware of his parochial mentality and aggression? If you are a film star or a filmmaker who had said something that somehow did not sound good to Thackeray’s ears, your film’s promotion would be affected, your film’s posters would be torn off; and angry young men would beat up people in movie halls during the film’s screening. There is always a fear that the bully might target you.
Celebrities are vulnerable people and anything vulnerable needs to be protected, and only somebody with power can protect another person. So in order to avoid trouble from the Shiv Sena, in which case the Maharashtra police might not be of much help, the celebrities make peace with the troublemaker instead. This explains why Shah Rukh Khan (a Muslim) and Hema Malini (a Tamilian) tweet their public display of affection and respect for the old man.
Interestingly, Thackeray had a double standard when it came to people of North India. Towards the Hindi-speaking common man on the streets of Maharashtra he had nothing but contempt, while he was very welcoming to the UP-walla residing in Prateeksha with the name of Amitabh Bachchan.
Thackeray never did show any signs of spreading his clout beyond the borders of Maharashtra. Yet for over four decades, his voice had been the ultimate command and his sainiks had been feared by immigrants as he ruled the state with an iron fist even without the power of a government office. Because power is not necessarily something one has when you have established legal authority, it is also established when you get somebody to fear you.
Fear makes people worship. Therefore, even though Maharashtra seems to be draped in the pall of tributes, respect and sympathy, the pall itself is not white in colour. It is saffron with timidness. Perhaps decades later admiring Thackeray for his notoriety would become fashionable just like admiring Hitler or denouncing Gandhi; the admirer always wanting to stand out just like Thackeray had been for more than forty years until now.
[Views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Jamia Journal’s editorial stance.]