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A charming extremist defies moderate India

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Imagine the racial overtones of David Duke. The machine-boss politics of Chicago's late Richard J. Daley. The aura of Marlin Brando's "Godfather."

That's a composite of Bombay's Bal Thackeray - who has ruled India's premier city for most of the 1990s by a system of fear and patronage, and a militant Hindu party of lower-class youth known as Shiv Sena, or "Army of the King."

Now imagine trying to arrest Mr. Thackeray.

That's what Maharashtra state authorities have been fumbling with for the past 10 days - without success. With rumors of riots, schools and businesses closing, and the stock market plunging, this city of 15 million has nearly shut down twice.

At one level, the arrest attempt of Bombay's most provocative and colorful figure seems purely a political vendetta by a former protg, who is now the Maharashtra state deputy chief minister.

But at a deeper level the arrest of Thackeray, for allegedly inciting the bloody Bombay riots of 1992 and '93, is a special moment in a battle over the erosion of civil society in a city of great wealth and greater poverty that has often been a bellwether of ethnic conflict and extremism for South Asia.

At the center of the struggle is a single-spaced, 274-page document that most people in Bombay have not even read. Known as the Srikrishna report, it is named after a Bombay judge who spent five years investigating the riots. In painstaking neighborhood-by-neighborhood detail, the report describes riots that raged out of control for days, where police stood by while 800 Muslims were killed (the official figure) - leaving wounds that have not yet healed.

Shiv Sena's rise

At the center of the riots, according to Judge Srikrishna's report, was Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena organization.

"There is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders....," the report states on page 28. "Bal Thackeray ... like a veteran General, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organized attacks against Muslims."

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