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Thackeray lays down 'norms' for writers

The Hindu

By Our Special Correspondent

MUMBAI, Feb. 7.

In a forthright enunciation of his terms of endearment with the literary world, the
Shiva Sena chief, Mr. Bal Thackeray, has said that he wants no criticism of either
the Government or the ideology and methods of the parties that run it. Or else,
writers should do without Government patronage, he said, reacting to the criticism
by the eminent Marathi poet, Mr. Vasant Bapat, about the ``stifling of freedoms'' in

``Return the Rs. 25 lakhs,'' Mr. Thackeray thundered, referring to the financial
grant given by the Maharashtra Government to conduct the 72nd annual Marathi
literary conference over the weekend here. Mr. Bapat had articulated the
unhappiness of the literary world, which is a victim of moral policing by the Shiv
Sena, while inaugurating the meet. Being the ``pay master'', Mr. Thackeray wanted
no discordant note in the piper's melody.

But such quid pro quo is unlikely to be accepted by the literary establishment. The
morality police have driven out the film Fire from cinemas here, forced the painter,
Mr. M. F. Husain, to take shelter in London and have tried to censor popular
music. Prudish censorship, which is enforced by the mob, is the norm.

A section of the literary world, which is holding a parallel meet after declining to
accept Government grant, asked Mr. Sunil Gavaskar not to receive this year's
Maharashtra Bhushan award given by the State Government. It was while receiving
this award two years ago that the venerated doyen of the world of cinema, stage
and music, Mr. P. L. Deshpande, was rubbished by Mr. Thackeray.

Mr. Deshpande had criticised intolerance in society promoted by those in power,
and Mr. Thackeray hit back by ridiculing both Mr. Deshpande and the award. He
said the honour was actually meant for him (Mr. Thackeray) but he had passed it in
favour of Mr. Deshpande. That had set off a major controversy and after that the
Sena has been triggering one controversy after another. But there is dichotomy in
the reactions to Mr. Thackeray's doings. One section takes him on; the other bends
before him, the latest example of it being Mr. Husain, who co- inaugurated the
exhibition of caricatures by, Mr. Raj Thackeray, and had his own caricature done
by Mr. Bal Thackeray.

Some film stars are eager to be seen in his company, and when Mr. Raj
Thackeray's caricatures were put on show, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan went and
bought one for a reported price of Rs. 1 lakh. Another was picked up by a
socialite member of the Godrej family. Mr. Lalit Suri came down from Delhi and
paid Rs. 3 lakhs for two of the works. Three caricatures of the Ambanis were also
snapped up. No prizes for guessing by whom.

What was the quid pro quo? ``The prices and the buyers' identities are not to be
disclosed,'' said the caricaturist, who admitted that since ``our own Government
came into being, I have had to stay my hand from doing their cartoons. How can I
do that to my own people?'' Is this the basis of Mr. Thackeray's principle? But one
must know that cronyism destroys the best of creative urges; patronage sustains
such human endeavours. A day earlier, Mr. Thackeray had inaugurated a website
of the world of painters: Yes, he is a good hand at caricaturing,
as is his cousin, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray, with the camera. But more common
artists do not get the kind of accolade that the Thackerays received from the
chattering classes.

Mr. Uddhav Thackeray's show was ``houseful'' and even the sales were
impressive. He had said he would spend it to help preserve wildlife, his passion and
subject of the exhibition.

His father's passion, however, seems to be not in consonance with such ideas of
artistic freedom. Mumbai has not heard the last of it yet.

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Last updated: February 23, 2000 .