Shiv Sena founder, Bal alias Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray, an ardent advocate of the Marathi Manoos (people who speak Marathi) movement and Hindutva, died on Saturday. He was 86. His death comes at a time when the embattled Marathi Manoos is divided between the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navniraman Sena (MNS), which Thackeray's estranged nephew Raj Thackeray formed in 2006. The death is also a body blow to Hindutva preachers who were eagerly looking at him ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. For his supporters, Thackeray was not just a Hindu Hriday Samraat (emperor of Hindu hearts), but also a leader who was not ashamed of airing his views against the rapid “Islamisation of India” and “appeasement politics".
Thackeray is survived by his son and party executive president Uddhav, estranged son Jaidev, three daughters-in-law, grandsons and granddaughters. His eldest son Bindumadhav was killed in a road accident in 1996.
Thackeray, who once raised heckles by praising Adolf Hitler, was a man of many parts — a learned and deeply religious person, a firebrand leader, a forceful orator and a man of the masses. His indomitable fighting spirit will be remembered by his supporters, friends in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and even his critics.
Thackeray began his career as a cartoonist with the English daily Free Press Journal, which he left it in 1960 to start his own Marathi political weekly called Marmik. His father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, a leading figure in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, shaped his political philosophy. It came quite handy for Thackeray to run a campaign against the increasing influence of Gujaratis, Marwaris and south Indians in Mumbai. He came to the spotlight with his “lungi hatao, pungi bajao” (remove those who wear lungi and celebrate the event) campaign, which witnessed bouts of violent attacks on south Indians in the city.
In 1966, Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena party to pursue Mee Marathi cause and to strengthen the place of Maharashtrians in Mumbai’s political and professional landscape. Thackeray is the founder of the Marathi-language newspaper Saamana and the Hindi-language newspaper Dopahar Ka Saamana.
In the initial years, Shiv Sena positioned itself as anti-Communist and succeeded in taking the control of trade unions in Mumbai from the Communist hold. It then successfully managed to enter the Mumbai civic body and opposed the Congress party's plan to make Mumbai a Union Territory.
The Sena later allied itself with the BJP over the Hindutva issue, which both parties believed in. The BJP-Shiv Sena combine won the 1995 assembly elections and formed the government. During the tenure of the government from 1995 to 1999, Thackeray was nicknamed ‘remote control’, since he played a major role in government policies and decisions from behind the scenes.
On July 28, 1999, Thackeray was banned from voting and contesting in any election for six years from December 11, 1999 till December 10, 2005, on the recommendations of the Election Commission. After the six-year voting ban was lifted in 2005, he voted for the first time in the 2006 BMC elections.
Following the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, Thackeray openly congratulated the Shiv Sainiks for their efforts. During the two communal riots which took place in Mumbai subsequently, Shiv Sena took to the street to protect Hindus in general. Thackeray made inflammatory statements about Muslims, and reiterated his desire for Hindus to unite across linguistic barriers to see “a Hindustan for Hindus” and to “bring Islam down to its knees in this country".
Thackeray was a strong opponent of cricket matches between India and Pakistan. In the 90s, his party members damaged the cricket pitch of Mumbai stadium. Shiv Sena's opposition to cricket with Pakistan still continues. Thackeray did not participate in the party's customary annual Dussehra rally in October. In a pre-recorded speech, he spoke about his ill health, but expressed his resolve to fight for the interest of the Marathi Manoos, reiterating this was the party’s base.