At 40, Bal Keshav Thackeray set out with a missionary zeal to fight for the rights of the sons of the soil in Mumbai. At 86, as his body became a prisoner of failing health, tens and thousands raised their hands to give a final salute to the Hindu Hriday Samrat who carved a special niche in the political spectrum, not only in Maharashtra but across India.
On June 19, 1966, when he launched the Shiv Sena, he underlined the objectives with a clear and loud message: The party would engage in 80% social work and 20% politics. In Marathi, the slogan ran: Ainshi takke samajkaran ani vees takke rajkaran. A lean but sturdy graduate of the JJ School of Art, whose passion was to draw cartoons attired in white kurta-pyjama, took to the narrow lanes and bylanes, firing the imagination of restless and unemployed youth who poured out of cluttered chawls spread across the commercial capital in hundreds and thousands to shoulder the socio-politics of the Sena.
In a short span, the numbers of unregistered Sainiks swelled as the city was dotted with 95 Sena shakhas. Thackeray’s characteristic speeches — which were intelligently packaged with substance and laced with wit and sarcasm bordering on vulgarity which finds no parallel in the current political spectrum – mesmerised the youth brigade. From the very beginning, the socio-politics of the Sena was based on militancy. If the Sena called a bandh, nobody would dare to challenge the party. The roaring tiger was a terror.
This was evident in a clarion call given by Thackeray against South Indians — the Sena referred them as Madrasis — whom he painted as villains for grabbing the bhoomiputras’ share of jobs in banks. At that time, the percentage of the Marathi population in Mumbai was between 40% and 42%.
From Madrasi to Uttar Bharati and Bihari, the definition of ‘outsiders’ may have changed, but never left the Sena’s ambit. From messiah of the Marathi manoos to Hindu Hriday Samrat, Thackeray captured a massive canvas with the same appeal.
Whether it was in 1970 or in 2012, there were always some who loved him and others who hated him. But nobody could ignore Thackeray.
His political friend-cum-foe Sharad Pawar once remarked: “Thackeray is one politician whose fan following cannot be imagined. On any given day, there will be a handful of Sainiks willing to lay down their lives for him.”
His 46-year-long journey, jolted with personal body blows and political upheavals, could never crush his die-hard spirit. He was ever ready to take up new challenges.
For the three successive Dusshera rallies (2007 to 2010) held at Shivaji Park, he had lamented: “Unfortunately, with age, my health is sinking. But that cannot dent my resolve to fight for the rights of my people.” An extremely alert mind and his unwavering distinct loud and clear voice surely portrayed his zest for life.
As a member of his family revealed, “Had it not been for the doctor, he would have insisted on attending the Dussehra rally this year  to greet his beloved Sainiks.”
If the ’70s and ’80s marked Thackeray’s political struggle to reinforce the sons-of-the-soil agenda, the beginning of 1990s and 2000 was dominated by Hindutva. It was sometimes in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Thackeray told the Bharatiya Janata Party’s general secretary Pramod Mahajan to see how Hindutva would work amongst Indians. It was about the same time when the entire north India was seized by the farmers’ agitation. On December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished, it was Thackeray who said, “If Sainiks have played any role in the demolition, I’m very proud of them.”
Thackeray drew the entire nation’s wrath for his one line. And then in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, Thackeray’s inflammatory speeches which appeared in the Saamna newspaper completely polarised the city. Prior to the riots, Thackeray always attacked Pakistan and Muslims. The Hindus revered him as their saviour. For the last 10 years, even as the BJP has put the issue of Hindutva on the back burner, Thackeray had been vehemently voicing his concern to unite the nation on this single plank.
However, Thackeray’s Hindutva had no place for narrow partisan class and the caste system. Thackeray always maintained, “The reservation policy will further divide society instead of uniting it.”
Politically, his tirade against the Congress remained a constant factor since the 1980s. However, he made public his admiration for Indira Gandhi for the creation of Bangladesh.