Bal Thackeray: Media and Discourse

There was near stampede in Dadar railway station, an hour after Bal Thackeray’s demise was made public. People, I found, moved at a frantic pace. Home is where they wanted to be at the earliest. It was around 5:30pm when the Patel grocery store near my house called it a day. By 7:30, Mumbai roads drew a grim look with few undaunted souls in their boxers looking for cigarette joints. That was not respect, you see. That was sheer fear. It was written all over their faces.

Next day, news channels gave out the verdict. Over 2 million people (they put it in a refined way – “sea of humanity”) accompanied Balasaheb on his final journey. Never before did Mumbai see such a huge coming together of people. Now that can’t be fear. That was unadulterated affection. That reflected the grand old man’s reach and level of penetration into Maharashtrians’ hearts.

Having said that, I find it somewhat parochial the way panelists and the news anchors carried on with the discourse. Their collage of anecdotes about him led to an imminent conclusion- Bal Thackeray was a straight talker who respected differing views and criticisms. He championed the cause of Marathi people and displayed immense courage in taking every hurdle head on. He was never seen losing his temper in the face of uneasy questions and hostile developments.

Some panelists, who claimed having closely observed Balasaheb’s political activities, talked about the need for holistic approach to understand the man. According to them, the lion-hearted leader of Shiv Sena was a complex character who cannot be assessed by mixing his personal and political report cards.

But how can you divorce Bal Thackeray the person from Bal Thackeray the politician. That is how he made himself known. It would be like studying Charlie Chaplin without taking into consideration that he was a seasoned satirist and a staunch socialist. You cannot recognize a figure like Bal Thackeray in isolation – isolated from his ideologies, political expletives and his doings. If you eclipse cricketing career from Tendulkar’s life, he will be reduced to near nobody. The world doesn’t know how he fares as a husband and father. We rather know him for his unassailable spirit and class.

“He could feel the public pulse and he worked that way”. This statement had become hackneyed by the end of the day. Businessmen, singers, analysts, politicians lent their views and very euphemistically narrated their fond remembrances. I am yet to form any opinion about him and so I should not have any qualms about these narratives. What I gathered from the discourse is that superlatives about Bal Thackeray’s role as a crowd puller, his wit and artistic élan as a cartoonist didn’t give even an outside chance to his not-so-rosy traits that people had complained time and again.

I understand that funeral day is not the ideal occasion to dig up someone’s past, but then don’t you think that any reasonable discourse in media on a political figure should come as a balanced rhetoric.

Yes, he had played hosts to personalities from different walks of life. There is no denial that he has been hospitable to people and entities, against whom he had spewed venoms in public.  But that is perhaps what his principle was. He could not treat his guests as adversaries despite having mountain of differences on matters close to his hearts. He preferred it that way. He didn’t make Matoshree his slaughter house, and he should be admired for such thoughtful gesture.

The panelists on popular news channels talked of his generosity, but they didn’t point out the fact that he made truce and shook hands only when a hand is offered from the other side. Where is the humility in this? He may have acted as the “benevolent dictator” he wished India to have, and I don’t criticize him for that. I only urge responsible media of this country to include all elements while discussion about an individual in question. Include the affection and acrimony, the fear and respect, the benevolence and the tyranny – in all fairness.

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