The journey of Bal Keshav Thackeray started as a cartoonist and ended with him becoming ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’, but one hing remained constant throughout and that was his outspoken nature that always stoked controversials.
Bal Thackeray courted controversies ever since he founded the Shiv Sena more than 30 years ago in 1966.
He emerged as the ‘undisputed’ voice of the ‘silent’ Maharashtrians who, he believed, were under threat from migrants.
Bal Thackeray was born in Pune on January 23, 1926 to Ramabai and Keshav Sitaram Thackeray (also known as 'Prabodhankar' Thackeray), a social reformer and journalist. Thackeray was the eldest of nine siblings and lost his mother when he was young.
The Tiger has been silenced
He stared his professional career as a cartoonist at Mumbai’s ‘The Free Press Journal’ in the 1950s, but left it in 1960 to form his own political weekly Marmik.
He began his political life in the 1950s with the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. The movement sought to unify Maharashtra on language lines that included the regions of Mumbai, Konkan, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada; while asking for Gujarat to be a separate state.
He formed the Shiv Sena, to fight for the Marathi Manoos, on 19 June, 1966. He rose to fame by vigourously promoting the ideology of ‘Maharashtra for Maharashtrians’. He tasted his first political success in 1973 when his party won power in the Mumbai civic body.
A contentious figure, Thackeray’s penchant for bold statements included him espousing support for LTTE to taking up cudgels against the Holocaust migrants entering Mumbai and its neighbouring precincts.
The Shiv Sena-BJP ‘saffron’ alliance swept the Maharashtra assembly elections in 1995, but Bal Keshav Thackeray didn’t install himself as Chief Minister.
A firm believer in aphorism that familiarity breeds disregard, Thackeray meticulously created a larger-than-life image of himself, eschewing mingling with supporters and making up for that by giving grand 'darshan' from the balcony of his heavily-guarded Bandra home Matoshree and giving rabble-rousing speeches at his famous Dussehra rallies.
Seated on a throne with multiple images of a tiger, Thackeray virtually lorded over Mumbai for years, receiving political leaders, captains of business and industry and film personalities at his residence, all without holding any position of power.
He was known as much for his unconventional views, which he never fought shy of airing, as for his assiduously created persona, at times leading to run-ins with the law.
His penchant for strident speeches landed him in trouble when he was disenfranchised for six years between December 11, 1999 and December 10, 2005, following a high court ruling and Election Commission notification for appealing to the people to vote on communal lines.
Thackeray was a considerably mellowed man later in life when he said in his party mouthpiece "Saamna", "I am not against every Muslim but only those Muslims who live in this country but don't obey the law of the land."
In 1991, Thackeray's party suffered its first major blow when Chhagan Bhujbal, who had served twice as Sena's mayor of Mumbai, defected to Congress in protest against Thackeray's opposition to the Mandal commission report on reservations for OBCs.
Thackeray suffered a personal loss when his wife Meena died in 1995. The next year, Thackeray's eldest son Bindumadhav died in a road accident.
The biggest setback Thackeray received was in 2005, when Raj, his nephew, left Shiv Sena and formed his own political party, MNS, in 2006, a development that also dashed Sena-BJP's hopes to return to power.
Thackeray's health had of late been failing him. At Sena's Dussehra rally here on October 24, the "tiger's roar" was missing. In a video-recorded address, he virtually announced his retirement from public life and urged his followers to stand by son Uddhav and grandson Aditya, setting out the succession plan in Shiv Sena.