The Shiv Sena is entitled to memorialise Bal Thackeray, the man who built and led the party into a formidable political force in Maharashtra, but it should do so on private land that it acquires on its own steam and not at a public space.
The Shiv Sena is entitled to memorialise Bal Thackeray, the man who built and led the party into a formidable political force in Maharashtra, but it should do so on private land that it acquires on its own steam and not at a public space. The makeshift Thackeray memorial at the cremation site in Shivaji Park — a central recreational and socio-political space for all Mumbaikars — is already turning into a contentious spot as hundreds of thousands of people prepare to gather to commemorate the death anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar on December 6. Chaityabhoomi, where Ambdekar’s last rites were performed in 1956, is quite close to the makeshift “memorial” where Shiv Sainiks stand vigil around a photograph of Thackeray. Although Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has ruled out permission for a Thackeray memorial at the site, Shiv Sena leaders have refused to dismantle the elaborate edifice they have erected, complete with halogen lamps. If an earlier proposal to build a memorial for Ambedkar — the father of the Indian Constitution, a document that proclaims equal rights for all Indians regardless of language, religion, ethnicity, caste or place of birth — at Shivaji Park was turned down, the idea that place can now be given there to Thackeray, with his divisive politics and sectarian appeal, defies reason.
Public memorials should embody the highest civilisational ideals of a society — of unity, solidarity, and a shared destiny. They should honour those who command respect from all Indians regardless of political affiliation or ascriptive identity. Not even the staunchest of Thackeray’s supporters can claim he epitomised such ideals. If a weak-kneed Congress-NCP government lets the Shiv Sena have its way, this will not be the first time public land has been used to memorialise an undeserving politician. But unlike the others, Thackeray held no official position; and though he held the ‘remote control’ for the Chief Minister for a term, he was never an elected representative of the people. Actually, he was indicted by a judicial commission of inquiry for orchestrating communal violence, and was barred by the Election Commission from voting and contesting in any election for six years for having sought votes in the name of religion. To erect a memorial at Shivaji Park for such a man is to insult democracy and public memory. It could easily turn into a divisive symbol for all the peoples Thackeray vilified as the hateful Other: Gujaratis, south Indians, Muslims and Hindi-speakers. The Sena should make all the necessary arrangements for a private memorial if it wishes. But under no circumstances should any of Mumbai’s public spaces be used.