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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

'I'll Declare a Hindu Nation'

Mr. Mumbai defends his controversial views


BALASAHEB THACKERAY, LEADER OF the Hindu radical Shiv Sena party, has never believed in secularism or democracy. But nearly two years after the Sena grabbed power in Maharashtra state following a 30-year struggle, the one-time political cartoonist appears to have mellowed somewhat. It's not just that he turned 70 on Jan. 23; political power has also forced him to act more responsibly, and his speeches are no longer loaded with fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Last week, Thackeray spoke with Asiaweek Staff Writer Ajay Singh in Bombay (which the Shiv Sena has renamed Mumbai) on a wide range of issues concerning India.

Many people say you've lost your bite.

Do they prefer me to bite or do they want me to bark? When I bark they say the bite is missing. When I bite they say the bark is missing.

You recently said that India was on the brink of a civil war.

Yes, I repeat. Look at the way in which our politics is heading, our political parties, the unstable government. Today we see that the government is not even moving at a snail's speed.

You have often advocated a dictatorship for India.

A benevolent dictatorship. When I talk of dictatorship, why do people think it is going to be like Hitler's? We have the ideals of Chhatrapati Shivaji (the 17th-century chieftain after whom the Shiv Sena is named) before us. He was a benevolent dictator. The problem is very easy. You are there to give a good government to the people. As long as I give a good government, why should people complain?

Do you think that given India's huge cultural diversity and its democratic traditions, it will accept a dictator?

The tradition is gone. There is no culture left, there is no democratic or civic sense left, no nationalism in anybody's blood. Right from Jawaharlal Nehru's time we had only hypocrisy and autocracy.

You recently outraged many Indians by calling Mahatma Gandhi a "fake celibate" and questioning his title as the Father of the Nation.

I have never said that [Gandhi] was a fake celibate. I only objected to that word "father." To call him a father of the nation is a wrong term, I say, because Hindustan [the original name of India] has been there for thousands of years. Who was the father at that time? Certainly not Mahatma Gandhi. He can be one of the national leaders -- you can give him a No. 1 or No. 2, whatever you want.

What does the Shiv Sena stand for?

There are too many stands. The foremost is that local men, the sons of the soil [in Maharashtra] must get their share, their right to get jobs and live. Besides, we are Hindus first. We are Indians according to the British term because they called this country India. So from India to Indian. Why not from Hindustan to Hindu? Why should I be ashamed of calling myself a Hindu? And others.

But the others are not Hindu.

So what? Let them live as Hindustanis. When you go to America, you call yourself an American because you have got that green card. We are not forcing you to have a saffron card. Enjoy all your religious freedoms. No problem.

Don't the minorities live as citizens of this country?

Most of the arrested people [Muslims] have their heart in Pakistan. And they live bodily here. I say no, please bring your heart here also and say that this is my country and that you are dead against Pakistan. I don't accuse all Muslims as traitors. There are good Muslims.

Now that India has the documents pertaining to the Bofors arms scandal, are you going to pressure the government to disclose the names of those who allegedly received bribes?

I don't believe in those papers. The Switzerland government is not a fool. If they expose one name -- of anybody -- tomorrow Switzerland will face bankruptcy. Because our [illegal] money is there and on that money the [Swiss] government is surviving and progressing.

In a 1993 interview, you were quoted as saying that if Indian Muslims "behaved like the Jews in Nazi Germany, there was nothing wrong if they were treated like Jews." Did you say that?

I have asked for that audio tape. [The interviewer] now comes out with a statement that she has destroyed the thing, which [contained] a very important statement that I have made.

A group of boys involved in the razing of the Ayodhya mosque claimed at the time that they were from Shiv Sena. Do you take responsibility for the destruction of the shrine?

I came out with a bold statement that if they are my Shiv Sainiks [party members] I am proud of them.

Were they Shiv Sainiks?

They were Shiv Sainiks, of course. I'm not ashamed of that.

Some people say that fear is the key to your power.

Well -- nothing wrong in it.

Why does the Shiv Sena have an image of being a party of thugs?

That's the image created by vested interests -- communists, socialists, so-called intellectuals.

If you become prime minister, what will be your first decision?

I'll declare this nation a Hindu nation.


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