Thing Is, Thackeray Really Was As Hateful As the Trailer Suggests

As controversy swirls around the film with accusations that it is ‘selling hate’, here’s a look at Thackeray’s past.

Updated
India
5 min read
Nawazuddin Siddiqui portrays the late Bal Thackeray in the biopic ‘<i>Thackeray’</i>.
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Within hours of the release of the theatrical trailer of Thackeray, a biopic on the life of Shiv Sena founder and patriarch Bal Thackeray, the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer kicked up a storm for its ‘derogatory’ depiction of South Indians in the film.

The Censor Board raised objections to the biopic, and many from the film fraternity, like south Indian actor Siddharth, panned the film for ‘selling hate’.

But the controversial trailer depicts Thackeray in all his hostility towards South Indians and other ‘outsiders’ rather faithfully. The Shiv Sena founder was famously venomous towards non-Marathis.

From drawing cartoons with potent messages to etching for himself a larger-than-life image on Maharashtra’s political landscape, Thackeray was the mascot of Marathi pride and Hindutva, who aroused extreme emotions. His love for "Marathi manoos” was unadulterated, despite its many political drawbacks.

However, the potency of his messages and the emotions he aroused often provoked violence against the so-called “outsiders”.

Thackeray’s Grouse Against South Indians

Shiv Sena, as a political outfit, was forged out of an ideology that employed aggressive violence and established ‘regional’ superiority as a means to stay politically relevant – something that holds true even today.

But the roots of this ideology can be traced back to before the Sena became a political party, right to its founder.

Thackeray, or Balasaheb as he was commonly known, started out as a cartoonist and later as editor of the satirical Marathi weekly magazine Marmik. He often expressed his hostile stance against the South Indians and other ‘migrant’ communities through his work.

And it was this grouse against South Indians that eventually brought him fame and paved his way into politics.

As per a report in Scroll, Thackeray began publishing in his magazine lists of all non-Maharashtrians heading major companies in Mumbai, in a weekly column called “Read and Rise”.

Through this, he began to stir popular sentiment against people from “outside” who were depriving Marathi-speakers of jobs and opportunities – somewhat similar to Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ pitch.

The primary aim of this “sons of the soil” rhetoric, as the report points out, was to target South Indians, or “Madrasis” as Thackeray used to call them.

‘Uthao Lungi, Bajao Pungi’

On 30 October 1966, Thackeray delivered an inciteful speech at his first Shiv Sena Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park, following which emotionally charged party workers attacked Udupi restaurants in a bid to target South Indians.

The depiction of this very incident in the movie’s trailer serves as a trigger point for the outrage.

Siddiqui, while delivering this very speech, says: “(How) these andu gundu South Indians come together! How they make each other big in life! They bring people from their hometowns even to wash the dishes at (their street side) idli carts. But not anymore. Now ‘uthao lungi, bajao pungi!’.

Shortly after this, the trailer shows a Udupi Coffee House, where men in lungis (depicting South Indians) are walking around, being attacked.

Following this provocative speech and the attack, the Shiv Sainiks became emboldened and would often “barge into various offices, gherao top officers, deliver physical blows to ‘lungi-wallahs’ who had ‘robbed’ their jobs,” as per Vaibhav Purandare’s book The Sena Story.

‘Ek Bihari, Sau Bimari’ - Thackeray on People from Bihar, UP

Thackeray held similarly hostile views about people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar living in Maharashtra.

He had termed Biharis as “an affliction”, and said that they were unwanted in all other parts of the country other than Bihar.

In an editorial written by the patriarch titled "Ek Bihari, Sau Bimari" (One Bihari, hundred illnesses) in the party mouthpiece Saamana, Thackeray had said: "They (Biharis) have enraged and antagonised the locals wherever they have settled. The MPs from Bihar and UP have also exhibited their ingratitude to Mumbai and Maharashtra by their anti-Marathi tirade in the Parliament."

Similarly, he had said in Saamana that the “huge influx of UP migrants in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra had virtually paralysed the state”, adding that the migrants (from UP) had “destroyed the city”.

He also criticised Chhath Puja as a holiday celebrated by Biharis and those from eastern Uttar Pradesh, saying that "it was not a real holiday”.

Following this, members of both Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray’s MNS routinely started inflicting violence on Mumbai's residents that were from UP and Bihar.

‘Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds’ – Thackeray on Gujaratis

Thackeray's party and his stand were anti-Gujarati right from the beginning. Thackeray believed that Gujaratis, who formed the majority of private employers in Maharashtra at that time, were exploiting a largely immigrant Marathi-speaking labour force from rural districts.

However, this hate did not manifest in the manner that it did for South Indian or Biharis. And despite the fact that the Gujaratis made up almost 14 percent of Mumbai's numbers back then, they were not attacked by the Sena, as pointed out in this India Today report.

In fact, Thackeray had said on several occasions said that that “one should not bite the hand that feeds one” in the context of Gujaratis.

However, the hate, as per this Hindustan Times report, escalated after the imbroglio over the formation of Maharashtra, with the tussle over Bombay. The state was carved out of the erstwhile Bombay state, which was split in half to form Gujarat and Maharashtra.

During the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti (SMS) agitation for the formation of Maharashtra, the India Today report adds, the Gujaratis were the principal targets.

‘Muslims Spreading Like Cancer’ – Thackeray and Communal Flare-ups

Soon after establishing himself as a ‘champion’ of the Maharashtrian cause, Thackeray turned towards Hindutva in a bid to acquire a wider, more vocal support base. To do so, he embraced anti-Muslim sentiments as part of the Sena’s ideology.

He had once famously said: "They (Muslims) are spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer. The... country should be saved from the Muslims and the police should support them (Hindu Maha Sangh) in their struggle just like the police in Punjab were sympathetic to the Khalistanis."

Thackeray’s Hindutva politics began at the Durgadi temple/mosque dispute in the late 1960s and manifested in the form of communal riots in Kalyan, Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad.

In Kalyan, the Sena said that it would hoist a saffron flag and perform a religious ceremony within the shrine, fanning the communal flames erupting over a shrine called Durgadi Fort, on which both Hindus and Muslims had claims.

In 1970, the Sena perpetrated similar communal riots in the Muslim-dominated town of Bhiwandi, on the outskirts of Mumbai.

But the Sena’s best-known case of being the force behind communal riots, as per the Scroll report, is that of the Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai in 1992-’93.

The Sena was the outfit responsible for orchestrating the violence against Muslims, who formed the majority of the 900 people that died in the riots.

(With inputs from PTI)

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