Bal Thackeray: Bull in China shop
In India's mainstream politics teeming with artful dodgers and double speaks of leaders, Bal Thackeray was like a bull in the China shop who lived by his conviction though his self-styled brand of nationalism was hardly palatable to majority in politics of propriety, including the national Hindu parties like BJP.
But the man whom his Marathi followers would call the King of Hindu Heart in Maharashtra and who was as much revered as feared and despised, Bal Thackeray's life was the stuff Bollywood films were made of. In fact the tinsel town was in awe and fear of Bal Thackeray and they would always keep him in good humor knowing his stance on Pakistani actors and singers working in Mumbai.
His opposition to playing of cricket with "enemy country" Pakistan is well known. So much so that Shiv Sainiks were asked to dig up cricket pitch to stop matches while he himself did not shy away from verbally attacking cricket icon of India, Sachin Tendulkar, on occasions.
He was openly anti-south Indian at some point and also known for leading a party that was against communities like the Biharis and their presence in Mumbai.
Thackeray had even praised Hitler once. He was quoted by Asiaweek as saying: "I am a great admirer of Hitler, and I am not ashamed to say so! I do not say that I agree with all the methods he employed, but he was a wonderful organiser and orator, and I feel that he and I have several things in common...What India really needs is a dictator who will rule benevolently, but with an iron hand."
He was a regionalist unabashedly and known for his blind espousal of the cause of Marathi people (Marathi manoos). His rise was also largely attributed to capturing of the unions of the cotton mills in Maharashtra where communists were once powerful.
Interestingly, Bal Thackeray had joined hands of George Fernandes and Sharad Pawar (then Congress-S leader) in October 1982 against the ruling Congress.
So when Sena chief Bal Thackeray died on Saturday after battling ailments for days, it was end of an era in Maharashtra and national politics in course of which many opposed to his functioning struggled to come to terms with his politics, often marked by street violence by the followers known as Shiv Sainiks.
As the end came at around 3-30 pm and the news was announced in the evening by his doctors, lakhs of his followers, many of whom called him the King of Hindu Hearts, broke down and grieved for the man who founded Shiv Sena in 1966 to enforce the rights of Marathi people in Mumbai and who left an indelible impact on national political architecture with plain speaking and espousal of national pride.
Thackeray is survived by his sons Jaidev and Uddhav, who is the executive president of the Shiv Sena. His political legacy is also carried forward by his nephew Raj Thackeray a few years back broke ranks with Shiv Sena and formed a separate party- Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
But the two cousins- Uddhav and Raj- were seen coming closer of late after some bitterness in the past years following the making of MNS.
Born on 1926, Thackeray had began his career as a cartoonist with the English language daily The Free Press Journal in Mumbai.
He later left it 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 movement (United Maharashtra movement), which advocated the creation of a separate linguistic state of Maharashtra.
Through Marmik, he campaigned against the growing influence of Gujaratis, Marwaris, and southern Indians in India's financial capital Mumbai.
He founded Shiv Sena in June 1966 as an outcome of a movement in Mumbai demanding preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city.
But over years he became a power centre in Mumbai whom all communities began to fear or respect.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Thackeray built the party by forming temporary alliances with nearly all of Maharashtra's political parties.
Thackeray was the founder of the Marathi-language newspaper 'Saamana' and the Hindi-language newspaper 'Dophar Ka Saamana'.
The Shiv Sena is a key partner of the Bharatiya Janaya Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The BJP-Shiv Sena combine won the 1995 Maharashtra State Assembly elections and came to power.
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 Bal Thackeray was banned from voting and contesting in any election for six years from Dec 11, 1999 till Dec 10, 2005 on the recommendations of the Election Commission.
According to analysts, his politics sought to demonize non-Marathis. Said political commentator Paranjay Guha Thakurta: "For him Pakistan was the evil empire. He did not want India to play cricket. He epitomised ultra nationalism."
"He was riddled with contradictions because he ranted against dynastic politics of other parties but supported his own son over nephew when it came to his own party," said Guha Thakurta.