Wednesday, September 10, 2008
A star-studded premiere for Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan's new film, The Last Lear, has been scrapped in Mumbai, India, because of security concerns for guests, after the Shiv Sena chief made threats against the Bachchan family. Mr. Bal Thackeray has vowed not to allow any film starring any member of the Bachchan family from being released in the state of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital, according to media reports. Mr. Thackeray has rejected repeated apologies from Mr. and Mrs. Bachan over their reported remarks denigrating Marathi language.
So who is Bal Thackeray and why is he so feared? According to a Wikipedia entry, Bal Keshav Thackeray (born January 23, 1926), popularly known as Balasaheb Thackeray, is the founder and chief of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist, Marathi ethnocentric and populist party active mainly in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. He is also referred to as Hindu Hridaysamrat (lit. "Ruler of Hindu hearts") and Sher (Tiger) by members of the Shiv Sena.
Thackeray is very vocal in his opposition to people who migrate to Mumbai, to non-Hindus (especially Muslims), and to Bengali Muslims he believes are Bangladeshis. In the late 1970s, as part of his "Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians" campaign, Thackeray threatened migrants from South India with harm unless they left Mumbai.
Shiv Sena party has politically allied itself with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindu nationalist agenda. Though currently out of power, Shiv Sena has dominated the Maharashtra legislature in the past.
Indian Muslims have specially felt the wrath of Mr. Bal Thackeray's bigotry. He has called Muslims a cancer in India's body that must be surgically removed. He has also advocated the creation of "Hindu suicide squads" to fight the scourge of "Islamic terrorism." His party activists have vandalized cricket pitches in India, in protest against tours by the Pakistani cricket team. Mr Thackeray commands an almost fanatical following among his party members.
People like Shiv Sena chief Thackeray, BJP leader L.K. Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi represent the ugly underbelly of Indian democracy and a great threat to India's secular constitution. Modi is currently in power in Gujarat, in spite of overwhelming evidence of his participation in 2002 anti-Muslim riots resulting in the massacre of thousands of Muslims. Mr. Advani has been held responsible for the destruction of Babri mosque and subsequent anti-Muslim riots. Mr. Thackeray is considered responsible for major anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai and continues to terrorize any one who disagrees with him. A rudimentary study of world history suggests that if the Indian political system can not find a way to marginalize and isolate Thackeray, Advani, Modi and other fanatics like them, India will continue to face threats to its secular constitution.