‘Balasaheb Thackeray feared the police as much as the police feared him. It was a love-hate relationship that went on for 45 years. The police knew that Balasaheb could unleash the lumpen element in a manner that no other political leader did. And Balasaheb was aware that when the police exercised their authority his followers would run with their tails between their legs.
The arrest of the two young women by the Palghar police in rural Thane, demonstrates vividly the police-Shiv Sena relationship. To avoid further mayhem, the police went soft on the Shiv Sena vandals, who destroyed the hospital owned by the tweeting girl’s uncle, and took the girls into what could be euphemistically described as “protective custody”. The collective personality of a Shiv Sena mob is not easy to splinter! It requires determined force and a political will, both of which are in short supply.
Some have described Balasaheb as a complex personality. I beg to differ. In the period that I knew him, from February 1969 when I first dealt with him as a deputy commissioner of police, and later as the commissioner of police of this city, I found him to be strangely human and friendly at times. In front of a crowd he was a man possessed. His rhetoric would carry him away and his undoubted eloquence would drive the crowds into a frenzy. As the deputy commissioner in charge of that area, I heard him speak often at Shivaji Park. He made the young men laugh. He made them angry. And he made them feel proud of themselves as Maharashtrians.
Many of these young men would have joined the ranks of the communists, or the socialists of the George Fernandes variety, if Balasaheb had not drawn them away from the Left. The Congress party, in its anxiety to destroy the trade unions and the hold of the Marxists and the socialists, patronized Balasaheb on the wrong assumption that he would fade away once he had done the hatchet job for them. This was a serious miscalculation of the type that was repeated later in the Punjab, when Zail Singh encouraged Bhindranwale in order to demolish the Akalis. But once the Shiv Sena established its credentials for calculated destruction, it never looked back.
The police at the thana level have to interact with such groups all the time and to evolve a modus vivendi, as the police, too, infringe the law quite routinely and need the help of such forces to protect them. So when hawkers were looted, shops stoned and bootleggers and gambling dens raided, not by the police but by Shiv sainiks, such daily infractions were tackled in a lackadaisical manner that encouraged the growth of the Shiv Sena. On one occasion, I was instructed to look away when a George Fernandes meeting at the Shivaji Park was planned to be disturbed by the Shiv sainiks. I did not take the hint, as I did not think that it was my job to permit a political calculation which contravened the law of the land.
Looking back, I think Balasaheb could have achieved much more, had he channelised the energies of his young followers into getting an education and doing constructive work.
He commanded their loyalties and their attention and could have persuaded them to change their value systems and evoke ethics.
This brings me to another aspect of his personality. He liked being called a Tiger, but he was very afraid of jail. If the police commissioner put his foot down, Balasaheb would usually relent. I had occasion to speak to him often on the phone, to back off from certain threats, and invariably he gave in. Finally, he asked to meet me at my residence to explain his stand, and when he departed he offered me life-long friendship!
On the day Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, I had publicly ordered my men to open fire if Sikhs were attacked. Balasaheb wanted to know if I had the authority to issue such instructions. I had to educate him on the meaning of the English word “if” before he regained his composure.
I know police commissioners who thought that the best way to deal with him was to appease him and pamper his ego. I do not think that they were very successful, or that Balasaheb thought any better of them for that. Those who attempted to uphold the rule of law were the ones he respected and admired.