Bal Thackeray – Life and Times
“I have collapsed physically... I can't walk... I am tired.” - Bal Thackeray to Shiv Sainiks on Dussehra.
Sharp wit and an even sharper tongue! Bal Thackeray was a master with the pen and brush and held sway over Maharashtra and particularly India's financial capital Mumbai. He will be known as the quintessential kingmaker who had power but never assumed any title all his life.
Bal Keshav Thackeray, popularly known as Balasaheb Thackeray, who passed away at 86, was the founder and chief of Marathi ethnocentric political party Shiv Sena with strong views on Hindutva.
Thackeray began his career as a cartoonist in the Free Press Journal in Mumbai (then Bombay) in the 1950s. He also contributed to the Sunday edition of The Times of India.
In 1960, he along with his brother launched a Marathi weekly journal, Marmik, which served as a mouthpiece for their crusade against non-Marathis in Mumbai.
With the aim of fighting for the rights of Maharashtrians, Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966. He soon rose to become a champion of the cause of the Maharashtrian workforce in the city, and targeted South Indian labourers and Gujarati and Marwari workforce.
Shiv Sena's mouthpiece, Saamna, launched in 1989, became his satirical vent and earned him the ire of the communities he targeted through inflammatory editorials, especially during the Mumbai riots of 1992-1993 and the Babri Masjid demolition.
One of his articles inciting Shiv Sainiks to attack members of a particular community got him arrested in 2000.
Thackeray’s moment of glory arrived in 1995 when the Shiv Sena-BJP combine emerged victorious in the Maharashtra Assembly Elections. Though directly not in power, Thackeray was instrumental in making key government and policy decisions during the Shiv Sena-BJP rule, so much so that he was nicknamed 'remote control'.
A firebrand orator, Thackeray’s speeches got the better of him in 1995, when the Election Commission banned him from voting and contesting any election for the next six years. The ban was in force till 2001.
Thackeray opposed Pakistan’s participation in cricket matches on Indian soil. His Shiv Sainiks went to the extent of damaging the pitch at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium in 1999 to sabotage a match with the neighbouring country’s team.
In 2007, Thackeray was arrested again for making a provocative speech at a Sena rally. He was soon released on bail.
His fruit of labour, the Shiv Sena, will now be taken forward by his son, Uddhav Thackeray. Balasaheb’s hardline ideology also inspired his nephew, Raj Thackeray, the founder of Maharashtra Navniman Sena (MNS).
Irrespective of whether the Marathi Manoos continues to see a protector of its interests in the Thackeray clan, or drifts away, Bal Thackeray will always be firebrand and controversial champion of its cause.