Shiv Sena Cheif
19 June 1966 – 17 November 2012
|Preceded by||Position Created|
|Succeeded by||Uddhav Thackeray|
|Born||Bal Keshav Thackeray|
23 January 1926
Poona, Bombay Presidency, British India
(present-day Pune, Maharashtra, India)
|Died||17 November 2012 (aged 86)|
Bombay, Maharashtra, India
|Political party||Shiv Sena|
|Spouse(s)||Meena Thackeray (née Sarla Vaidya)|
|Father||Keshav Sitaram Thackeray|
|Relatives||Raj Thackeray (nephew)|
Thackeray began his professional career as a cartoonist with the English-language daily, The Free Press Journal in Bombay (now Mumbai), but he left the paper in 1960 to form his own political weekly, Marmik. His political philosophy was largely shaped by his father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, a leading figure in the Samyukta Maharashtra (United Maharashtra) movement, which advocated the creation of a separate linguistic state for Marathi speakers. Through Marmik, Bal Thackeray campaigned against the growing influence of non-Marathis in Bombay. In 1966, Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena party to advocate for the interests of Maharashtra in Indian political and professional landscape, and against certain segments of Bombay’s Muslim population.
He had a large political influence in the state, especially in Mumbai. A government inquiry found that Thackeray and Chief minister of Maharashtra Manohar Joshi incited members of the Shiv Sena to commit violence against Muslims during the 1992–1993 Bombay riots.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Thackeray built the Shiv Sena by forming temporary alliances with nearly all of state’s political parties. Thackeray was also the founder of the Marathi-language newspaper Saamana. After the riots of 1992–93, he and his party took a Hindutva stance. In 1999, Thackeray was banned from voting and contesting in any election for six years on the recommendations of the Election Commission for indulging in seeking votes in the name of religion. Thackeray was arrested multiple times and spent a brief stint in prison, but he never faced any major legal repercussions. Upon his death, he was accorded a state funeral, at which many mourners were present. Thackeray did not hold any official positions, and he was never formally elected as the leader of his party.
Thackeray was born on 23 January 1926 in Pune, the son of Keshav Sitaram Thackeray (also known as ‘Prabodhankar’) and his wife Ramabai Thackeray. The family belongs to the Marathi Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu community. He got his surname Thackeray from his father Keshav who was an admirer of India-born British writer William Makepeace Thackeray, his father Keshav later changed his surname from Panvelkar to “Thackeray” Bal was the eldest of eight siblings, three among them being brothers Shrikant Thackeray (father of Raj Thackeray) and Ramesh Thackeray, and five sisters (Sanjeevani Karandikar, Prabhavati (Pama) Tipnis, Sudha Sule, Sarla Gadkari and Susheela Gupte).
Bal’s father, Keshav Thackeray, was a journalist and cartoonist by profession; he was also a social activist and writer who was involved in the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement of the 1950s, which argued for the creation of a unified state called Maharashtra for Marathi-speaking areas with Bombay as its capital. Bal Thackeray was inspired by his father’s political philosophy.
Thackeray began his career as a cartoonist in the Free Press Journal in Bombay. His cartoons were also published in the Sunday edition of The Times of India. After Thackeray’s differences with the Free Press Journal, he and four or five people, including politician George Fernandes, left the paper and started their own daily, News Day. The paper survived for one or two months. In 1960, he launched the cartoon weekly Marmik with his brother Srikant. It focused on issues of common Marathi man or Maratha Manoos including unemployment, influx of migrants, retrenchment of Marathi workers and its office in Ranade Road became the rallying point for Marathi youth. Bal Thackeray later stated “that not just a cartoon weekly but also the prime reason for the birth and growth of the Sena.” It was Marmik issue on 5 June 1976 which first announced the launch of membership for the Shiv Sena.
The success of Maarmik prompted Thackeray to form the Shiv Sena on 19 June 1966. The name “Shiv Sena” (Shivaji‘s Army) was after the 17th century Maratha king. Initially, Thackeray said it was not a political party but an army of Shivaji Maharaj, inclined to fight for the Marathi manoos (person). It demanded that native speakers of the state’s local language Marathi (the “sons of the soil” movement) be given preferential treatment in private and public sector jobs. The early objective of the Shiv Sena was to ensure their job security competing against South Indians and Gujaratis. In its 1966 party manifesto, Thackeray primarily blamed south Indians. In Marmik, Thackeray published a list of corporate officials from a local directory, many being south Indians, citing it as proof that Maharashtrians were being discriminated against. His party grew in the next ten years. Senior leaders such as Babasaheb Purandare, chief attorney for Trade Union of Maharashtra Madhav Mehere joined the party and chartered accountant Madhav Gajanan Deshpande backed various aspects of the party operations. In 1969, Thackeray and Manohar Joshi were jailed after participating in a protest demanding the merger of Karwar, Belgaum and Nipani regions in Maharashtra. During the 1970s, it did not succeed in the local elections and it was active mainly in Bombay, compared to the rest of the state. The party set up local branch offices and settled disputes, complaints against the government , It later started violent tactics with attacks against rival parties, migrants and the media; the party agitated by destroying public and private property. Thackeray publicly supported Indira Gandhi during the 1975 Emergency to avoid getting arrested; Thackeray supported the Congress party numerous times. Thackeray and the Chief Minister Manohar Joshi were explicitly named for inciting the Shivsainiks for violence against Muslims during the 1992–1993 riots in an inquiry ordered by the government of India, the Srikrishna Commission Report.He had influence in the film industry. His party workers agitated against films he found controversial and would disrupt film screenings, causing losses. Bombay, a 1995 film on the riots was opposed by them.
Thackeray said that the Shiv Sena had helped the Marathi people in Mumbai, especially in the public sector. Thackeray believed that Hindus must be organised to struggle against those who oppose their identity and religion. Opposition leftist parties alleged that the Shiv Sena has done little to solve the problem of unemployment facing a large proportion of Maharashtrian youth during its tenure, in contradiction to its ideological foundation of ‘sons of the soil.’ In 2006, Thackeray’s nephew Raj Thackeray broke away from Shiv Sena to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) during Thackeray’s retirement and appointment of his son, Uddhav rather than Raj as the leader of Shiv Sena. Narayan Rane also quit around that time. The Sena acted as a “moral police” and opposed Valentine’s Day celebrations. On 14 February 2006, Thackeray condemned and apologised for the violent attacks by its Shiv Sainiks on a private celebration in Mumbai. “It is said that women were beaten up in the Nallasopara incident. If that really happened, then it is a symbol of cowardice. I have always instructed Shiv Sainiks that in any situation women should not be humiliated and harassed.” Thackeray and the Shiv Sena remained opposed to it, although they indicated support for an “Indian alternative.
Opposition to Caste Based Reservations
Thackeray firmly opposed caste based reservation and said – “There are only two castes in the world, the rich are rich and the poor is poor, make the poor rich but don’t make the rich poor. Besides these two castes I don’t believe in any other casteism.” The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) supported caste based reservations based on the Mandal commission. Thackarey, despite being warned that opposition to the reservations would be politically suicidal for the Shiv Sena party, opposed the BJP over this issue and said he would initiate “divorce proceedings against the BJP” if the BJP supported caste based reservations. This also let to his conflict with Chhagan Bhujbal, an OBC, who later left the Shiv Sena.
Views on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
Thackeray defended Vinayak Damodar Savarkar against criticism and praised him as a great leader. In 2002, when President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam unveiled a portrait of Savarkar in the presence of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Congress Party opposed the unveiling of the portrait and boycotted the function. Thackeray criticised the opposition and said “Who is [Congress president and Leader of the Opposition] Sonia Gandhi to object to the portrait? What relation does she have with the country? How much does she know about the history and culture of India?”. Years later, when Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh made a statement that Savarkar was the first to suggest the two-nation theory that led to the partition, Thackeray defended Savarkar and accused Singh of distorting history.
Support for Kashmiri Pandits
In 1990, the Islamic militant organisation Hizbul Mujahideen, through the columns of an Urdu daily Aftab, warned Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley within 36 hours. Bal Thackeray got seats reserved in engineering colleges for the children of these Kashmiri Pandits in Maharashtra. He was one of the first persons to help them after which Punjab also followed suit. At a meeting with them he supported the idea that the Kashmiri Pandits could be armed for their self-defence against the Jihadis.
Thackeray was married to Meena Thackeray (née Sarla Vaidya) on 13 June 1948 and had three sons, oldest son Bindumadhav, middle son Jaidev, and youngest son Uddhav. Meena died in 1995 and Bindumadhav died the following year in a car accident. Uddhav succeeded his father as the leader of Shiv Sena. Uddhav’s son, Aditya wants to continue the family dynasty by getting active in the youth wing of the party. Raj is his brother Shrikant’s son. Despite Raj’s breakaway from the main party, Raj continues to maintain that Thackeray was his ideologue and relations between them improved during Thackeray’s final years. Raj broke away from Shiv Sena to form his own political party called the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Sanjeevani Karandikar is Bal Thackeray’s sister. Thackeray drew cartoons for Free Press Journal, Times of India and Marmik besides contributing to Saamna till 2012. He cited the British cartoonist David Low as his inspiration.
Thackeray with actress Madhuri Dixit in 2012 shortly before his death
Thackeray died on 17 November 2012, of cardiac arrest. Mumbai came to a virtual halt immediately as the news broke out about his death, with shops and commercial establishments shutting down. The entire state of Maharashtra was put on high alert. The police appealed for calm and 20,000 Mumbai police officers, 15 units of the State Reserve Police Force and three contingents of the Rapid Action Force were deployed. It was reported that Shiv Sena workers forced shops to close down in some areas. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for calm in the city and praised Thackeray’s “strong leadership”, while there were also statements of praise and condolences from other senior politicians such as the then-Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP leader and MP (Former Deputy Prime Minister of India), L. K. Advani.
With Bollywood actor Shree Amitabh Bachchan
He was accorded a state funeral at Shivaji Park, which generated some controversy and resulted from demands made by Shiv Sena. It was the first public funeral in the city since that of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1920. Thackeray’s body was moved to the park on 18 November. Many mourners attended his funeral, although there were no official figures. The range reported in media sources varied from around 1 million, to 1.5 million and as many as nearly 2 million. His cremation took place the next day, where his son Uddhav lit the pyre. Among those present at his cremation were senior representatives of the Maharashtra government and the event was broadcast live on national television channels. The Parliament of India opened for its winter session on 21 November 2012. Thackeray was the only non-member to be noted in its traditional list of obituaries. He is one of few people to have been recorded thus without being a member of either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. Despite having not held any official position, he was given the 21-gun salute, which was again a rare honour. Both houses of Bihar Assembly also paid tribute. The funeral expenses created further controversies when media reports claimed that the BMC had used taxpayers’ money. In response to these reports, the party later sent a cheque of Rs. 500,000 to the corporation.
The Hindu, in an editorial, said regarding the shutdown that “Thackeray’s legion of followers raised him to the status of a demigod who could force an entire State to shut down with the mere threat of violence”. Following his death, police arrested a 21-year-old woman who posted a Facebook comment against him, as well as her friend who “liked” the comment. Shiv Sena members also vandalised the clinic owned by the woman’s relative.
Thackeray was called ‘Balasaheb’ and Hindu Hruday Samrat (“Emperor of Hindu Hearts”) by his supporters. His yearly address at Shivaji Park was popular among his followers. In 2012, he instead gave a video-taped speech and urged his followers “to give the same love and affection to his son and political heir Uddhav as they had given him”.Thackeray was known to convert popular sentiment into votes, getting into controversies and making no apologies for it though his son has tried to tone down the party’s stance after his death. He was known for his inflammatory writings, was seen as a good orator who used cruel humour to engage his audience. He had a large political influence throughout the state, especially in Mumbai. His party never had any formal internal elections nor was he ever formally elected as its chief at any point. Gyan Prakash said, “Of course, the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement had mobilized Marathi speakers as a political entity, but it was Thackeray who successfully deployed it as an anti-immigrant, populist force.” He inspired Baliram Kashyap the leader of Bastar who often regarded as the Thackeray of Bastar.
A memorial for him was proposed at Shivaji Park but legal issues and opposition from local residents continue to delay it.
Thackeray is satirised in Salman Rushdie‘s 1995 novel The Moor’s Last Sigh as ‘Raman Fielding’. The book was banned by the Maharashtra state government. Suketu Mehta interviewed Thackeray in his critically acclaimed, Pulitzer-nominated, non-fiction 2004 book Maximum City. Thackeray previewed director Ram Gopal Verma’s film Sarkar, which is loosely based on him, released in 2005. The 2011 documentary Jai Bhim Comrade depicted a speech by Thackeray at a public rally, in which he articulated “genocidal sentiments” about Muslims, stating that they were the “species to be exterminated.” The documentary followed this by showing several Dalit leaders criticising Thackeray for his beliefs.