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'He gave Maharashtrians a sense of belonging, an identity'

November 18, 2012 00:52 IST

Writer Shobhaa De, whose latest novel Sethji is focused on Indian politicians, speaks about Balasaheb Thackeray's legacy and what she remembers most about him.

I think the city has reacted remarkably well.

We must congratulate our policemen. They have done a splendid job.

I am on the street right now, traffic is moving smoothly and there is no sign of anybody creating trouble, no stone throwing incidents, no arson, looting, no dadagiri, as we call it in Mumbai. All very positive signs.

What we are hearing are reports and rumours that he actually passed away more than two days ago and it was kept under wraps and so on. I just think, if that is in fact true, and can be established, it would reflect very, very poorly on the doctors who are taking care of him.

And the people who have been giving bulletins, and other fairly responsible people, including Amitabh Bachchan and others, who claimed that he was stable and improving till maybe this morning. It would put them in very poor light.

So right now I think we should just take them at their word. If they say he passed at 3.30, this afternoon, there is no way one can actually disprove that.

For the Marathi manoos I would say he was definitely a charismatic and iconic figure who gave them a sense of belonging and a sense of identity. There is no question about that. It was a rallying cry -- Jai Maharashtra – something that made every Maharashtrian feel proud, each time it was uttered with sincerity.

What it means in real terms and political terms, there is going to be a mixed legacy, and a mixed point of view about that. In terms of restoring pride, fine, great, no challenging that.

But the politics of violence that he represented -- they gave a kind of wanton destruction respectability, and endorsed it, in situations which were really very delicate for the city and for the state.

I think that was something that people cannot and will not forget easily and must not forget.

To deify someone only because he was a political leader and he was someone respected by a large number of his own followers? He never did make it is as a national figure. And within Maharashtra, did he create more jobs? Did he create more opportunities?

Did he in any way help reduce the number of farmer suicides? One has to be frank and brutal and say, 'No, that did not happen.'

In the political landscape of Maharashtra, he was definitely a figure to reckon with for the last 40 years and more.

In the political landscape of India he had more of a nuisance value to a lot of parties, because the regional jingoism that he eventually began to represent wasn't good. It was divisive politics -- dividing up a very cosmopolitan state, a very cosmopolitan city, into pockets of parochialism -- and was certainly not something that I would consider a proud legacy that even his own followers would want to further perpetuate.

The whole business of outsiders, the Biharis, the South Indians and so on, did polarise the city, did divide the city and that can never be good for a city such as Mumbai, can't be good for any city, for that matter.

I knew him for over at least three decades. He was a great charmer. He had a fantastic sense of humour. And in person he was nothing like the construct, the image, the whole positioning of Balasaheb Thackeray as a figure, who was (meant to bring) feelings of being intimidated and terrorised in his presence. It was nothing of the kind.

He disarmed you. He was a very good host. And his sense of humour was something that I recall the most. He had a terrific sense of fun. That came through, of course, in his cartoons. But his play on words, the way he used the language, his Marathi, his oratory, his skills -- there is no disputing any of that.

Balasaheb has nominated Uddhav as his successor. So the party will have to rally around Uddhav for now. Besides looking (like there may be) a kind of a rapprochement between the nephew (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena founder Raj Thackeray)and the son, it also appears like young Aditya (Uddhav's son) is being groomed to maybe fill in for Uddhav or to be a big support to his father, whose health is not that good either.

What happens from this moment on remains to be seen. Will the party back Uddhav in quite the same way, because in terms of charisma Uddhav is a completely different political creature? He doesn't have his father's charisma. Whether he grows into it at a later stage remains to be seen.

I am hedging my bets because there could be a master plan that we are not aware of.

Uddhav is a much quieter person. His interests have always leaned towards photography, history and reading. He has been, in a way perhaps, been pushed into a situation that he may or may not be naturally inclined towards. He has grown into it. He has improved vastly from his early days when he was making speeches, particularly the Shivaji Park rallies.

He was being unfairly compared -- it is inevitable -- to his father and always negatively compared because in terms of (charisma) Uddhav did not have it.

It is really good to see a very calm city. It is a pity that they compelled people to pull down the shutters. It means a loss of wages and a loss of (business).

As told to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel

Shobhaa De