Thackeray’s stand towards Indian Muslims

Though it is difficult to believe Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s comments regarding his approach towards Indian Muslims as genuine, it would not be appropriate to ignore the same. Yes, this refers to his stating in his party’s mouthpiece, Saamna, “I have no grudge or enmity against the Muslims who have been living here since generations. My objection is to those who have sneaked into the country from outside. They should be caught and lynched or kicked out.” Referring to Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh, he stated: “They come and incite our Muslims. In the Konkan region (of coastal Maharashtra), the extremist elements who have sneaked in from outside are influencing our Konkani Muslims and spoiling them.”

Considering that Thackeray is not known for any secular approach and has extremely prejudiced, communally oriented anti-Muslim attitude strongly associated with him and his entire network, what does his statement really indicate? At the outset, it may be noted that Thackeray probably stated this without giving much thought to what he was going to say. He may have been guided more by the probable “news-value” of his comments than whether he sincerely held the same.

When referring to his having nothing against Muslims living “here since generations,” what does Thackeray really mean? There are no two questions about Muslims having lived in the subcontinent for generations, rather centuries. In fact, political boundaries leading to creation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are only a few generations old. Now, did he give considerable importance to this aspect before expressing that he had nothing against Muslims living “here since generations?” Perhaps, no. Given that Thackeray’s social and political importance is primarily confined to Maharashtra, maybe he was referring only to Muslims of the area. This probably explains his specific reference to Muslims living in the Konkan region.

One may for a moment ignore the fact that Thackeray himself was born in Madhya Pradesh and not in Konkan, that comprises coastal districts of Maharashtra. Nevertheless, it is indeed too stunning to have Thackeray refer to Muslims of Konkan as “our Muslims.” There is nothing new about him blaming “extremist elements who have sneaked in from outside.” He has held this stand against South Indians, Biharis, Gujaratis, Marwaris and among other regions, people from Uttar Pradesh, giving little importance to their religious identity. In other words, caring little whether he was targeting Hindus or non-Hindus, including Muslims, he is known for having made highly inflammatory comments against them, promoting his campaign for Marathis. In this context, it is essential to deliberate on what does his “national” perspective really include? Is it limited to Konkan, perhaps the entire state of Maharashtra or the entire country- that is India?

Well, his political priorities seem entirely lopsided if his national perspective extends to the whole of India. This perception has no space for treating people from other parts of country in Konkan and/or whole of Maharashtra as immigrants. Neither does it have any room for communal language he is known to have used while making anti-Muslim remarks. Whatever his or his party’s vision be, India remains a multi-religious, secular country.

Notwithstanding all the limitations that Thackeray’s past comments project his political and social stature as, his using the words “our Muslims” for Muslims of Konkan remains puzzling. What does the word- “our”- as used by Thackeray really symbolize? Given the rifts that his own family and party- Shiv Sena- have been subject to in recent years, the word “our” cannot be said to be reflective of either his family or his party’s stand towards Muslims of Konkan.

Individually, Thackeray cannot be denied the right to express concern for Konkani Muslims, irrespective of whether it is genuine or not. The fact that his concern is linked with their being “spoiled” by extremist elements, as he states, “sneaking” in “from outside,” demands attention. Of course, it cannot be ignored that Thackeray has not cited any statistical evidence of how many extremist elements have sneaked in and how many Konkani Muslims have been “spoiled” over a particular period of time. Equally relevant is probing into which security lapses led to which extremist elements “sneak” in and when? Also, what does Thackeray really mean when he refers to “spoiling of Konkani Muslims?” How have they been spoiled? If they have really been spoiled, what are the degrees to which they have been? Against this backdrop, it is amazing that Thackeray is not known to have expressed any concern about associates of saffron brigade having been recently held for their involvement in a series of terrorist incidents? That would also have probably been accorded some “news value.” Maybe, but not as much as his comments towards Indian Muslims have. Besides, he cannot afford to win saffron brigade’s criticism. And this apparently explains his recent statement about not “bearing any grudge… towards Indian Muslims.” Politically desperate and frustrated at not having received any media coverage for quite some time, he has tried this line. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2011 on page no. 14

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