By Declan HillYou may have missed the story, but recently one of the most notorious and powerful jerks in Indias political pantheon died. His name was Bal Thackeray and in his life he summed up many of the dangers of modern-day India. Many Canadians, when they think of that country, still have a vague impression of a place run by spiritually motivated people, dressed in turbans and doing yoga. Thackeray almost single-handedly disproved that cliche.Remember Slumdog Millionaire, the feel-good movie about millions of people living in abject poverty, enforced slavery and piles of garbage? Thackeray was the unspoken villain of the movie. In the real-life incident that some of the film was based on, it was his thugs who were responsible for the violent ethnic cleansing that was shown in the movie (the heros mum is killed in such an event). It was his Bombay mafia goons that are responsible for much of the poverty that the slum community endures. In recent years, his party launched a series of violent attacks on people who were celebrating the non-Hindu holiday of Valentines Day.In general, it is pretty difficult to overstate how much Thackeray was a piece of work. For example, along with being officially named by an Indian government commission as the person responsible for instigating the massacres of thousands of his fellow Indians, being connected to the murder, intimidation and extortion of dozens of political rivals, Thackeray was also a fan of Hitler.Perhaps, the best story that sums up Bal Thackerays unique I do what seems right to me personality, comes in the making of the film Bombay. The film was an attempt by Bollywood to portray the 1992 massacres. As such the producers had included a scene where a character based on Thackeray agonizes over his decision to have been involved in setting off the massacres of so many people. Thackeray was furious with the filmmakers, not for claiming that he was responsible for the massacres, but because they portrayed him as being at all remorseful.So why is the death of a Hollywood-baddie-like political thug in India important for Canadians?Thackeray may have been an extreme example, but he is no way untypical of many of Indias contemporary politicians. The amount of corruption that infects almost any Indian government office is so large that there has been a wave of widespread protests by the public dismayed at the outright stealing that goes on in much of the country. This corruption has so paralyzed the political establishment that it is difficult to get anything done by the government.One example, from the many that exist, comes from Bangalore where the city has simply run out of room to put their garbage. I do not mean they have run out of room in a Canadian sense of sometime-in-the-next-20-years-we-will-have-a-crisis-if-we-do-not-learn-to-recycle. I mean right now there are large piles of garbage rotting on the streets of the city. And Bangalore is purportedly the most advanced and best-run of all of Indias new high-tech urban centres.Far worse than corruption and ineptitude is the outright sectarian violence and calls for ethnic cleansing of many of Indias top politicians. This statement may sound extreme to anyone unfamiliar with current-day India, particularly with the general western, but out-of-date, view of life in that country as a Mahatma Gandhi-inspired hug-fest (Gandhi was actually killed by a murderous bigot because he expressed tolerance for other religions). There are state premiers and other prominent Indian politicians who have made their careers on calls for intra-ethnic or caste violence. Even one of Indias main political parties the BJP is notorious for forming around the issue of excluding minorities from Indias political power.Despite this highly combustible mix of corruption, ineptitude and sectarian violence, the Canadian government has just decided, for the first time in 40 years, to export our nuclear material to India. Quite why they have chosen to do so is a mystery. After all, you expect that our government would not export highly toxic radioactive material to a country that builds nuclear power plants on geological tectonic fault lines. Why then would our government export this material to a country that cannot look after its garbage and has nuclear power plants amid worsening social tectonic fault lines?The best thing that can be said about Bal Thackerays career is that at least he did not have access to Canadian nuclear material. We will not be able to say that about his successors and it could mean a very bad scenario for us all. Declan Hill is a journalist who specializes in organized crime, corruption and international affairs. He wrote this for the Ottawa Citizen.
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