*Turmoil in the Great City: Shahrukh and the Shiv Sena

Lebensraum for the 'Maratha Manush': Thackeray and Hitler, Soulmates

The Shiv Sena are at it again.  This band of troglodytes and common thugs cannot rest for more than a few months without causing a huge stir.  Many things animate their passions, many are their grievances and the imagined humiliations that arouse their hostility.  They have some steady targets against which they fire away at will, but there is also an equally steady stream of moving targets.  In recent years, their most sustained agitations have been against those deemed foreigners, by which the Shiv Sena means non-Maharashtrians.  Indeed, one suspects that non-Indians (barring, of course, Pakistanis and all Muslims, whatever their country of origin) pose no problems as such for the Shiv Sena, since the Sena reserves its animus for those, such as Punjabis, Biharis, and others from the great Gangetic plains who are suspected of having ‘stolen’ jobs from Maharashtrians.  Some months ago, India’s supreme cricketing icon, Sachin Tendulkar, himself a Mumbaikar, received a stinging rebuke from the Sena for daring to suggest that Mumbai belonged to all of India rather than to Maharashtrians alone.  One can say, then, that the Sena is democratic in at least one respect, resolutely upholding the law of equal opportunity.  The mighty and the low, the famous and the obscure – none are spared if they do not meet the exacting standards of xenophobia, prejudice, and outright hooliganism established by the Sena.

Shahrukh Khan, often described as the reigning star of Bollywood, is the most recent enemy of the nation identified by Bal Thackeray, the aging and agitated but still agile leader of the Shiv Sena.  The sin with which Shahrukh is charged is none other than the suggestion, aired by some others as well, that the cricket teams which comprise the Indian Premier League (IPL) may have done an injustice to the Pakistani players by failing to make a bid for a single Pakistani player.  Why the IPL teams did not make any such bid is an interesting question in itself, and what it says about the sentiments which predominate among the truly moneyed classes in India, is a matter that I shall have to leave aside for the moment.   Shahrukh is alleged to have betrayed the nation by his remarks, but of course the matter is more complex.  As a Muslim, he has always been suspect; and one of the canards to which the Sena subscribes is the view that the first loyalty of Indian Muslims is to Islam [the ummah] rather than to the Indian nation.  Shahrukh and the other Khans of Bollywood, Salman and Aamir, and now Saif Ali, have long been resented for their domination of the Hindi film world.

Many people in Mumbai are anguished that the threats to Shahrukh reflect poorly on the city often imagined as India’s greatest metropolis.   There are many considerations that are germane to this discussion.  It is less important whether the reputation of Mumbai is diminished in the eyes of outsiders, or whether Mumbai will fail to make the grade of a ‘world-class city’.  Mumbai has survived many indignities and assaults, and, much as New York did in the aftermath of the September 11 bombings, it attempted to respond in one voice and assert ‘the spirit of Mumbai’.  These appear to be laudable sentiments, though they disguise the indignities to which millions in a city such as Mumbai are subjected every day. Of perhaps more lasting significance is the fact that the Indian state appears to be powerless and certainly unwilling to reign in lawless elements and subject Shiv Sena cadres and their leaders, not least of them Thackeray and much of his thuggish clan, to the rule of law.   The public sphere cannot be held hostage to those who perceive themselves as beyond the reach of law, and the fact that must be faced squarely is that the Shiv Sena represents the most fundamental repudiation of the very idea of democracy.

Only a few months ago, on a visit to the US to promote his film ‘My Name Is Khan’, Shahrukh was detained at Newark airport and held for questioning.  That created uproar in India, though one wishes that there would be similar umbrage when lesser-known people are harassed or deprived of their liberties.  As Shahrukh’s film is released in India, the Sena has promised to disrupt screenings of ‘My Name Is Khan’.  That would be a fitting tribute to Shahrukh, and surely an unintended endorsement of the film which is an exploration of the travails of being a Muslim in the post-9/11 world.  The recent incidents, however, suggest that the Shiv Sena, which has competed in elections but is most in its element when its members and hired guns are out in the streets terrorizing common people and creating disorder, is in its death throes.  Its electoral support has diminished over the last few years and, as is well known, Thackeray’s family is exceedingly dysfunctional.  Like bullies elsewhere, the Shiv Sena’s cadres have no appetite for a real fight, and the most ample sign of their cowardice is the indisputable fact that in the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai they quickly went into hiding.  It is much too late for Thackeray to return to cartooning, an art in which he excelled and where, had he persisted, he might well have made a name for himself as India’s most imaginative cartoonist.  Now he should be happy if, in a few years from now, he it at least remembered as a character somewhat out of cartoons.


33 thoughts on “*Turmoil in the Great City: Shahrukh and the Shiv Sena

    • The author of this above comment illustrates perfectly the point I’ve made, namely that the Shiv Sena and its
      defenders are gutless, spineless cowards. The author of this comment is one of those who people
      who sends anonymous, rambling comments in incoherent English, as sure a sign as any of their
      illiterate background. Their rage will in the end only burn themselves, not the targets of their venom.
      And since and the author and his ilk claim to be such good Hindus, it would benefit them to read
      the Gita and ponder over its meaning.


  1. Professor Vinay Lal is well known as is his professional background. He does not hide behind initials. Who is ds? Why is he or she hiding their identity? Who is the scum bag now?


  2. With the rapid liberalization and privatization of the Indian economy, the number of SEZs (Special Economic Zones) have increased. There is a genuine objective conditions existing in these zones, largely urban and semi-urban, for the realization of class consciousness of the workers. The corporate class and the political parties they support knew very well that there is a genuine and urgent need to fracture and fragment the class consciousness of workers from realization. This is systematically carried out by parties like Shiv Sena in India. If we look at the nature of labouring class in construction industry in major urban centres where SEZs exist, we find that the corporate class is deliberately avoiding the local population but instead import cheap labour from various places whose language is different from the region they work. For example, majority of labourers in construction industry in Madras are Bihari, Hindi and Oriya speakers while in Mumbai, the majority are Tamil speakers. This is true of other urban centres as well.
    What is happening in India is a systematic program played out by the reactionary political parties backed by the corporate class. What Shiv Sena does is more transparent and visible but it is important to bear in mind that other political parties were not exception. They too are involved covertly on this issue.


  3. With all the Lal Salam rhetoric you seem to forget that the Bhoomi Putra movement is merely a symptom of the malaise, (actually this word is more commonly used in Malaysia), which is a capitalist conspiracy to deny jobs to locals who are bound to be more forceful in demanding their rights as workers than immigrants and more difficult to exploit.

    These capitalists are emasculating Indian youth; a friend of mine drew an analogy between castrated bulls and immigrant workers.

    Unless you have millions of youth with gainful employment around their homes, there will never be true, sustainable and equitable development.

    Correction in the above post (please read as Marseilles as at Marseilles).


    • I agree with Mr. Khandke that immigrant workers are generally easier to exploit. This is a phenomenon
      that has been widely observed in nearly every country, and it would apply to north Africans in France,
      Hispanics in California (and the rest of the US), as it would to immigrants from other states in
      Maharashtra. And I agree as well that the neo-liberalization policies to which India now openly
      subscribes thrive on immigrant labour.

      However, this is the extent of my agreement with his observations. None of the political parties in
      India can genuinely be described as friendly to labour, and there is nothing in the history of Shiv Sena
      to support the view that they have the interests of the labouring classes in mind. To suppose that
      they have an intelligent critique of neoliberalization is also fanciful. Of course, there is the further
      consideration that nearly all xenophobic movements of this kind always hide behind the argument
      that they are merely defending the rights of local people and ensuring that local people have the first
      claim to jobs. I am afraid that the history of the Shiv Sena as a party given to thuggery is too well
      established to allow the generous interpretation that Mr. Khandke wishes to put into place.

      If Mumbai is a city of immigrants, to whom does it belong? Some would argue, and I would agree,
      that there are now some cities, among them Mumbai, which should be declared as free zones,
      allowing unhindered movement of freedom. So there are many other considerations that are germane here.


  4. It is a shame that you equate the ability to write English well with literacy (and intelligence?). (The author of this comment is one of those who people who sends anonymous, rambling comments in incoherent English, as sure a sign as any of their illiterate background.)


    • Mr Khandke is referring to my reply to an anonymous comment made by one “DS” on February 15 which referred to
      my “muslim scum bag swine identity”. I have found that those with the most virulent views, such as “DS”, are precisely
      those who are absolute cowards and paper tigers. I do not equate the ability to write English well with literacy
      and intelligence, as anyone who has been reading my blogs would know; but those such as DS are often also
      illiterate (though being illiterate is certainly no offense). There is such a thing as doing violence to the language in
      which one writes if one writes poorly and carelessly. Unfortunately, given the hold that English has come to occupy
      in the place of the nation, even those who have a better command over some Indian language than they do over English
      feel obliged to write in English. We have also been reduced to the state where, in cities such as Delhi, many people
      have no command over either English or Hindi. This is the larger backdrop to my remarks.


  5. There is not a word that I have written in support of beating of immigrant workers or aspiring workers both in the organised sector and the unorganised sector, or the ideology (even calling it so is giving it respectability, which I grudge to give) behind it.

    The allegation that I am generous to the Shiv Sena is uncalled for and baseless, and just that an allegation.

    Our constitution (though I am no expert, just a lay man’s understanding) allows unrestricted freedom, for all Indian’s with unhindered rights (property, employment) for the entire country. (+)

    Our urban centres are some are the focus that drains resources from the entire country, they need to be de-crowned, given less special treatment, for example resources like power and water get diverted from Maharashtra, where there is acute shortage, to Mumbai, many parts of Maharashtra reel under long hours of load-shedding and even drinking water is a hard to get luxury, while Mumbai has malls and multiplexes, car washes and water parks, air – conditioners and neon signs.

    Dadabhai Navroji had written about the drain of wealth from the Ganga to the Thames.

    Like during the sack of Jhansi, after Rose’s brigands had looted its riches for three days, the field was let open to the Madrasi Paltan to scavenge what they could from whatever was leftover, the firangi has left; the loot continues.

    Sanjay above in my opinion, has written a much better and true to the earth analysis of the violence and its causes, (perhaps because it is germane (to use the term which I had to look up) to the same perspective and information that I have):

    “… corporate class is deliberately avoiding the local population but instead import cheap labour from various places whose language is different from the region they work.”

    (+)There is only one state where there is a gross denial of the fundamental rights of non-locals, Jammu and Kashmir, are we to read about that some day at this place?


    • I never suggested for a moment that Mr Khandke supports beating immigrants, so I’m not sure why he adverts to this matter unless he is reading whatever he wants into my comments. Similarly, I refer to his “generous
      interpretation” of the Shiv Sena, which, as the context of my remarks makes quite clear, means that he implies, without any warrant, that the Shiv Sena is somehow friendly to labour; similarly, he under-estimates the extent to which they are viciously xenophobic and racist.

      I do not disagree with his observations that funds and resources have been directed away from the rest of Maharashtra towards Mumbai. A similar story is to be told, of course, in the rest of India. That was one of the reasons for
      the downfall of Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra, namely that while he was busy building up Hyderabad as a so-called world-class city, the rest of Andhra (especially the hinterland) was being ignored with catastrophic consequences for farmers, among others.

      Mr Khandke is under-cutting his own argument, not realizing that the same xenophobia and violence which has been unleashed by the Shiv Sena has not been witnessed in most other parts of the country where a similar situation prevails with respect to the resources diverted towards the metropolis and the neglect of Indian agriculture.

      There is no use in white-washing the crimes of the Shiv Sena. A party of thugs should be recognized for what it is, even if not every member of the party is implicated in the violence, and even if the party has done social work in parts of the Maharashtra.


  6. (English = wisdom)

    I love this story, it sounds so much more fun, in the dialect of Hindi that it was narrated to me.

    How an ‘intelligent’ man steps on human faeces once but smears himself at three places.

    A babu, in his spotless white dhoti, kurta, smart cap and glasses, rushing to attend some important work did not watch his way and stepped on human faeces smearing his feet in the process, and exposing him to the ridicule of all around him. “It is not what you think”, he said crossly, picking a little of it with his index finger, smearing it thus. The crowd, you see, it is not difficult, for a crowd to collect in such places, squealed at this action of his, hot under his starched collar, and cursing under his breath, he almost screamed at them “It only looks similar”, and to prove, brought his finger under his nose smearing its tip, shaking as he was with anger.


  7. You had written that I was generous to a particular group engaged in criminal activities, namely violence, I mere clarified my position that violence was merely the effect not the cause, the symptom of the pathologies.

    You you theorise that the group under question does not have any love lost for the labour movement, there would never be any reason for me to disagree, I have, from close quarters, witnessed many examples of what you have theorised .

    I would not consider it appropriate to justify lawlessness by one group on the basis of lawlessness engaged by any other regardles of its scale. I consider it a poor argument that it is fine x is cracking y’s skull as a is cracking b’s. Nothing I have written in my understanding can be construed as such.

    There are no Robin Hoods in our Nottingham forests.

    It is my belief perhaps naive that just as progress has made it possible for us to communicate from whatever distance we are at, this same progress should make violence obsolete as a means of conflict resolution, mankind needs this development.

    I gave Mumbai and Maharashtra as an example. Commenting on what you have written in your reply, my view is that here too the logic is simple, it is not fine that x exploits y, just because a exploiting b.

    Additionally my Mumbai example is followed by the general statement to the effect that a few million are like parasites living off over a thousand million Indians.


  8. (+)There is only one state where there is a gross denial of the fundamental rights of non-locals, Jammu and Kashmir, are we to read about that some day at this place

    I wish Mr. Lal writes about this.


  9. “….Mr Khandke is under-cutting his own argument, not realizing that the same xenophobia and violence which has been unleashed by the Shiv Sena has not been witnessed in most other parts of the country where a similar situation prevails with respect to the resources diverted towards the metropolis and the neglect of Indian agriculture….”

    Dr. Lal has carefully qualified his “not been witnessed ” with “most” and he would add that “most” was both in the spatial and temporal sense, which makes it huge umbrella to take shelter under, the quintessential weasel.

    If statistic prove that since independence, there has been more violence at x, y, z, a and b than in Maharashtra, then would that justify the present situation?


  10. Attempts are even being made at the present time, in view of the growing discontent and threatening demonstrations against our system, to maintain our domination, as it was originally established, by stirring up internecine animosities. Even official organs are not ashamed openly to appeal to the fanaticism of Mohammedans against Hindus for the special purpose of weakening the rising agitation against unendurable economic, social and race oppression. But this shameful policy will be unsuccessful and neither Moslem bigotry nor European rifles and artillery can permanently maintain a foreign despotism which has proved a failure in every direction.

    H. M. Hyndman, The Ruin of India, 1907.

    Independent India has inherited the above attitude from its colonial masters appeasement to fanaticism and bigotry.

    “…The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”


  11. You accuse the Shiv Sena for being paper tigers during events such as the Mumbai bombings, but I am curious as to what exactly you have done besides write eloquent musings on your blog and through your various publications. Please enlighten us.


    • I wouldn’t describe this as a particularly intelligent or probing question. It is the Shiv
      Sena that has been terrorizing a good portion of the population of Mumbai, and the question
      that has to be asked is where the so-called brave warriors of the Sena were hiding when
      Mumbai was being subjected to an attack by terrorists. Perhaps Bappi who has
      posed this question should look up the meaning of ‘paper tigers’.


  12. Does Mr. Lal suggest that private individuals take law into their own hands and confront those indulging in violence?

    On another note not related to the topic,

    Quoting Arundhati Roy:

    The best allegory for New Racism is the tradition of “turkey pardoning” in the United States. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the US President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year, in a show of ceremonial magnanim ity, the President spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the 50 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be sociable, to interact with dignitaries, school children and the press. (Soon they’ll even speak E nglish!)

    That’s how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully bred turkeys — the local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (lik e myself) — are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they’re for the pot. But the Fortunate Fowls in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work for the IMF and the WTO — so who can accuse those organizations of being antiturkey? Some serve as board members on the Turkey Choosing Committee — so who can say that turkeys are against Thanksgi ving? They participate in it! Who can say the poor are anti-corporate globalization? There’s a stampede to get into Frying Pan Park. So what if most perish on the way?

    Ms. Roy candidly admits her status as a bred turkey, wishing everyone was equally candid.


  13. I request Mr. Lal or his students participate in the writing of the article on Two-nation theory on wikipedia:


    Jinnah’s argument for Pakistan was (as is quoted in the article)

    “ It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litterateurs. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state. ”

    What is the position of the Muslims living in the successor officially non-Muslim India, of the colony of India in view of the above argument? This is not an idle query; that Hindus and Muslims in the colony of India have different pre-colonial episodes is elementary and puerile. One example; Adilshahi general Afzal Khan was killed by the then Maratha chieftain Shivaji. Shivaji is a Maratha hero, Afzal Khan a Muslim martyr. Muslims of the colony of India wished for and won Pakistan to celebrate the martyrdom, but Muslims living in non-Muslim India are not prepared to give Hindus the space to celebrate their version of that episode.

    The consequence of the present mode of application of this theory is that Muslims living one successor state of the colony of India had their interests sacrificed for the formation of east and west Pakistan, which itself could not stay together and fell apart in less than a generation.


  14. I am writing this from my mobile phone so I apologize for my punctuation.but please don’t ignore this comment. You mentioned that that the sena did nothing during the 2008 terror attacks.I didn’t understand this statement.what is a political party supposed to do in such a situation.


  15. If you compare inter state migration patterns you will notice that Maharashtra gets more migrants from north India than all southern states put together.


  16. It is true that Mumbai was built by various mercentile communities of India.but to what extent is their success attributable to caste or ethnic networks?anthor recent trend that I have noticed is these days they prefer to hire even domestic servants who are non maharastrians.


  17. I am person who traveled over 70 countries as Marine officer and know global traffic system besides north american experience. If given chance I will transform Mumbai into Shanghai but I need a chance to prove myself. Please read my little story below which will tell you what happened to me in Mumbai.

    I traveled all the way from Canada with great solution for Mumbai Traffic as I had great experience with police service here and I meet DCP Chavan he understood my idea and took me to Joint CP bharambe after discussion but when I meet him I was completely disappointed with CP Bharambe as man had so much ego and he thought I am some stupid person he gave me 15 minutes and when I told him idea about car pulling he gave very irresponsible statement saying if you do car pull how TATA general manager will travel. I left his office with no hope and came back to Canada then I contacted Traffic Commissioner Vardhane and told him, all its 4 months since then I am waiting to do something for city but no one is there for me. Its a tragedy of our country that they don’t want intelligent experienced person like me. I will fight my issue as CP has limit for his post but my agenda for my city does not. Jai Hind

    Hope you can connect me with right person as I live in abroad Toronto which is city like heaven but I want to see Mumbai like that but without support from you people I cant do it. If I can feel from 15000 km for Mumbai why people from their don’t. They do but they don’t know what to do. I have solution but need an opportunity.


    Satyanand Gaitonde


  18. While the article was informative, This comments section is one of the more incoherent reminders that the argument that the internet will create more open discourse is a big lie. All it does is allow people to yell without listening and claim to have the ability to transform Mumbai into a Shanghai as though someone of that talent would be asking for help in a blogspot comments section. I think the topic of gender is also crucial when discussing the situation in India’s cities as well as very often employers will not only exploit migrant workers but also women. As always, capitalism and patriarchy are intertwined.

    Prof. Lal, do you posses a Facebook or Twitter account?



    • Hello Brinda,
      I agree with you that capitalism and patriarchy are intertwined. My blog essays do not explore every aspect of the question and you are right to draw attention to this in your comment. With respect to the other comments, most from the time when the blog essay was first published, again I have to concur with you that they demonstrate that the argument about the inherent openness of the internet is a facile one. There are trolls everywhere, but the viciousness of many in India is in some respects exceptional, for reasons that are explored in some of my other writings. The anxieties and insecurities of the Indian middle class are remarkable. Finally, I do not use Facebook or Twitter.


  19. I recall reading this article when it was written, agreeing warmly with your views on the Shiv Sena. Sitting today, however, I am almost glad that a Shiv Sena government has come up in Maharashtra in the recent elections rather than a BJP one, something I never would have thought I would be glad about even in my wildest dreams. It shows how much the situation has worsened in just 10 years that this group of thugs seems preferable to the BJP. Kali Yuga indeed.


    • Hi Anna, The article you mention is now almost a distant memory. I see your viewpoint, of course. But I would introduce only this note of caution: there is no substantive difference between the political parties in India. The BJP draws many of its members in Kolkata and West Bengal more generally from those who were with the CPM for a long time. This is only one illustration. People switch loyalties at short notice. The point here is that it takes a certain kind of person to enter into politics today–a person who is fundamentally unprincipled, self-aggrandizing, and resolutely focused on retaining power. Alliances of the kind that have brought the Shiv Sena into power with partners such as NCP and the Congress cannot last, but I share the sentiment that anything is preferable to the BJP.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s