For the contemporary Indian, Bal Thackeray epitomised the right-wing. He and his Shiv Sena were seen as trail blazers for espousal of Hindutva and more specifically Marathi cause. But few know that:
The seeds of this ideology were laid in him in his early days and the shape that his persona assumed was in great measure moulded by his father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray.
Keshav Thackeray, an activist and journalist who wrote for his fortnightly magazine named Prabodhan, was in fact one of the prominent members of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement (Unified Maharashtra movement demanding creation of separate state for Marathi speaking people) in the 1950s for which he was also arrested.
It was his father’s ideology that inspired both Balasaheb and his brother Shrikant – also a cartoonist – to take up cudgels for Maharashtra.
Also little known is the fact that Bal Thackeray wrote for Marathi publications including Navyug under the pen name Mavla.
Later the same pro-Maharashtra stance of Shiv Sena became exclusionist. And such was xenophobia that the party’s own Delhi chief Jai Bhagwan called it quits citing "partial attitude" of the party high command towards Maharashtrians and “inhuman attitude” towards North Indians.
Ironically, while many had laughed off claims of Congress leader Digvijaya Singh that the Thackeray family has its origins in Bihar, Keshav Thackeray has himself mentioned in his writings that their community belonged to Bihar! Obviously, an uncomfortable fact for the first family of Maharashtra which has championed the cause of the local Manoos.
Besides being seen as a father figure by the sainiks, his followers also call him the Hindu Hriday Samraat ("Emperor of Hindu Hearts").
In his eruptive and disruptive breed of politics, Bal Thackeray’s greatest transgression possibly was the call for setting up of Hindu suicide squads in response to the adoption of similar strategy of Islamist militants.
Though known as a cartoonist for newspapers, Bal Thackeray also did the illustrations for a Malayalam book Natotikkappalil nalumasam , which has been translated by Malayatoor Ramakrishnan.
Thackery has been satirised in Salman Rushdie`s novel ‘The Moor`s Last Sigh’ as Raman Fieldin` while Suketu Mehta interviews Thackeray in his critically acclaimed book ‘Maximum City’.
Michael Jackson had visited Bal Thackeray when he came to India in 1996 and is believed to have autographed the toilet seat that he used. The Shiv Sena supremo had presented the Jacko with a silver tabla and taanpura during the visit.