Not many Indian leaders are accorded a State funeral, let alone those who never held any official post. Bal Thackeray was an exception to the rule. On 17 November, 2012, the Shiv Sena founder breathed his last. It brought to an end a colourful life, one that started in a remarkably different manner.
Bal Keshav Thackeray not only played the main role in mounding Maharashtrian politics but also had an impact on the national stage. He was also regarded as the central point of many controversies.
He was the son of Prabodhankar Thackeray, a prominent figure of the Samyutka Maharashtra movement (an organisation created for demanding separate a speaking state for Marathis speaking Maharashtra), The Quint reported.
His son Bal Thackeray began his career as a cartoonist with the Free Press Journal in Mumbai. His cartoons were also published in the Sunday edition of The Times of India. Later, he launched his own cartoon weekly, Marmik, which came to be known for its campaign against the growing influence of non-Marathi people in Mumbai – especially targeting Gujaratis and South Indians.
The fight to secure the rights of Maharashtra's "sons-of-the-soil" took another turn when Thackeray formed Shiv Sena, a political party to fight for the cause of the Marathi Manoos on 19 June, 1966, according to Hindustan Times. "I am offering my 'Bal' for the cause of Maharashtra," the report quoted Thackeray as saying at the time.
At the party's first-ever Vijaya Dashmi rally on 30 October, 1966, he berated politics, terming it an "eczema". He added that politics would play only a 20 percent role in the Shiv Sena, with 80 percent of its work in the social sphere, Live Mint reported.
Vikram Doctor wrote in The Economic Times Thackeray was a "brilliant political innovator, and provided a cynical estimation of what modern political parties could aim for and achieve". He further added:
"Thackeray was by training a visual artist, so could develop a commanding and distinctive visual identity for the party. The logo of a snarling tiger, the bow and arrow emblem, the saffron-coloured swallow-tail flag and the later design of shakhas or local offices in the shape of small forts -- all helped create a thrilling, war-like identity for the party."
In alliance with the BJP, the party scaled new heights of success, when it clinched power in the 1999 Assembly elections in Maharashtra. Of the 288 Assembly seats, the 30-year old party won 73, while the BJP managed to get 65 seats. Manohar Joshi went on to became the first Shiv Sena chief minister.
Though Thackeray had undoubtedly helped secure victory for the party with his strategies, he personally stayed out of the political limelight, saying he would rather hold the "remote control" of the alliance government, according to The Hindu.
And though he was embroiled in a fair share of controversies, especially for his outspoken ways, he never shied from saying what he felt. These controversies ranged making inflammatory statements, to be being called anti-Muslim, to professing an affection for Adolf Hitler because he was an "artist", to his many anti-Gujarati, anti-south Indian and anti-North Indian sentiments, as a report in Hindustan Times said.
In fact, in 1999, Thackeray was even banned from voting and contesting elections for a period of six years, after he was found guilty of seeking votes in the name of religion. The ban was lifted in 2005, and he voted for the first time in the 2007 BMC elections, according to a report in India Today,
But his divisive nature meant he was constantly battling rebellion within his party, with several senior members including Narayan Rane, Chhagan Bhujbal and Ganesh Naik leaving the party. In 2005, nephew Raj Thackeray — once thought to be the true heir to Bal Thackeray's legacy — left the Sena to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
On 17 November, 2012, Thackeray died in Mumbai after a prolonged illness. His death had led to the city of Mumbai being shut, showcasing his power even after his demise.
Over a million people attended his funeral, that stretched over two kilometres — from his residence in Kalanagar to Shivaji Park in Dadar, where the party office is located. Since his death, there have been calls for memorials and the renaming of public spots in his honour. Currently, a memorial is proposed at the current residence of Mumbai's mayor at Shivaji Park.
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Nov 17, 2017 14:36 PM | Updated Date: Nov 17, 2017 14:36 PM