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In 1993 I saw Bal Thackeray being interviewed on Zee TV (satellite TV channels had just been introduced in Pakistan). I wish every Pakistani and Indian Muslim had seen that interview. It confirmed what I’ve always known: that Indian Muslims would have been annihilated if India had not been partitioned. When the compere asked him why his party activists had violated the Supreme Court’s order about the Babri Masjid, he said (in Hindi), “The Supreme Court’s order was not to do any construction at the mosque, we didn’t do any construction, we simply did a lot of destruction!” His hatred for Muslims was evident.

Now, 16 years later, this demagogue is in the news again, this time for trying to divide India along ethnic and linguistic lines. A Muslim legislator who preferred to take oath in Hindi instead of Marathi was attacked by his activists, and when Sachin Tendulkar said he was an Indian and that Mumbai belonged to all Indians, he faced the wrath of Thackeray. Thackeray said that Sachin had not even been born when the struggle to make Mumbai part of Maharashtra took place. I remember what happened in those days (it must’ve been in the late nineteen fifties). Even in those days, my mother and aunts used to pronounce Bombay as Mumbee. There were riots almost daily in Bombay, and later we heard from one of my uncles that Gujarati college girls had been stripped naked and paraded in the streets. The slogan of the Maharashtrians was “Mumbai humchee!” (Bombay is ours!).

Ultimately of course Maharashtra got Bombay (after much bloodshed) and the Shiv Sena managed to get it renamed as Mumbai a few years back. It should be interesting to see what happens now. The Shiv Sena did poorly in the recent elections, which may have been one of the reasons why Thackeray suddenly decided to foment trouble along linguistic lines. He apparently knows that language is a divisive factor: one of the reasons for Pakistan’s disintegration in 1971 was the feeling among Bengalis that their language was not being given due importance.

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