Mumbai/New Delhi | 17th Nov 2012
In this file photo Bal Thackeray gets ready to enact a scene from a play Janata Raja on Shivaji. PTI
umbai did not switch on its Diwali lights on Saturday evening as news broke that Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray (1926-2012) had passed away at his residence Matoshree at 3.33 p.m. The city wore a deserted look as shops downed their shutters and transport went off the road, even as wailing Shiv Sainiks made their way to Balasaheb's residence in Bandra in suburban Mumbai. 58-year-old Dadar resident and Sena supporter Shubhangi Joshi echoed their sentiments when she said, "He was a principled man and stood up for both Hindutva and Marathis. Now that he is no more, the Marathi manoos is orphaned. There can never be anyone like him ever."
Earlier this week, Balasaheb's supporters had parked themselves outside his home praying for his fast recovery. Temples and shrines from Mumbai to Kolhapur and Satara to Nashik were crowded with Sainiks who made offerings and hosted lavish yagnas for their leader. On Thursday too, the city was tense as police forces and their various units in large numbers were deployed not only outside Matoshree but across sensitive areas fearing law and order problems.
A huge pandal is being constructed at Shivaji Park to keep Balasaheb's body for public viewing on Sunday. Sena spokesperson and Member of Parliament Sanjay Raut said that party workers should go to Shivaji Park from 7 a.m. onwards to pay their tribute to the Sena supremo. He also requested all Sainiks to maintain peace and not lose their calm. The funeral is expected to take place on Sunday afternoon.
Veteran political writer Prakash Bal Joshi who had interviewed Balasaheb in his earlier days says that with his departure, the political scenario in Maharashtra would undergo a major shift. "He ruled the hearts of Maharashtrians and spoke fearlessly about issues close to his heart. He had the guts to take decisions against popular sentiments. He was a keen observer of human nature as a cartoonist as well as a politician. His speeches were like sharp brushstrokes with words."
Bal Thackeray loved warm beer and controversy. Complex, he relished the company of his Muslim friends even while claiming that they were "growing like a cancer" within India. Although his first target on founding the Shiv Sena in 1966 was Mumbai's South Indian community, yet it was in a newspaper run mostly by South Indians — Free Press Journal — that he first came into prominence as a cartoonist. There was both depth as well as acid in his sketches, and the youthful future "Hriday Samrat" of millions in Maharashtra spared no one in his lampoons, especially the pot-bellied, already hugely prosperous politicians of the ruling Congress. However, that did not stop him from getting their patronage, albeit with many veils of secrecy covering such a partnership. Thackeray was at his core a bohemian, disrespectful of authority, and this made him a natural foe of Communists, a political philosophy which he detested. Small wonder that Maharashtra's then Home Minister D.S. Desai saw in him the perfect antidote to the rapid growth of the CPM and CPI trade unions in India's business hub
None will step forward now, or ever did then, to confirm the pact between Bal Thackeray and Congress leaders intent on weakening their Communist and Socialist rivals. Suffice it to say that authorities in Maharashtra looked the other way when Shiv Sena unions began ensuring a flow of workers to their fold, because of their conspicuous success in persuading both businesspersons and officials to agree to their demands in a manner denied to those of the Left. After Desai, it was the turn of Sharad Pawar to be whispered as the hidden patron of the Sena. If so, Pawar was hardly alone. Businesspersons joined hands with those in authority to ensure that the Sena vanquished its rivals, chief among them being Datta Samant of the Socialist Party, who came to grief after shutting down Mumbai's textile mills for more than a year, killing half of them permanently in the process
In 1995, when the Sena-BJP coalition toppled the Congress party to become Maharashtra's rulers, Thackeray could have been the CM. But the bohemian in him refused any such "honour". No less fanatically than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did Bal Thackeray reject any official post. Of course, his was usually the last word in matters of governance, a fact that he was unabashed about. Thackeray had immense self-confidence, and never bothered to shade his views to suit the exigencies of the hour. Not for him any script other than his own.
Since 1995, the Shiv Sena has remained a potent rival to the Congress Party in Maharashtra, but although his politics remained upbeat, his personal life was marked by tragedy, with both his wife and a son passing away in quick succession. Nephew Raj had his uncle's fire, but it was to the gentle Uddhav, his son, that Thackeray turned to become his successor. This resulted in a walkout by Raj. However, the passing away of the Sena patriarch may unify Uddhav and Raj.
M.V. Kamath, honorary director with Manipal University, who is the only remaining person today who worked with Balasaheb in Free Press Journal, and remained friends with him said, "I was six years his senior and his job then at Free Press was to approve his cartoons for publishing only after showing them to me. His earlier cartoons were laced with desi humour and I used to complain to him to add some sophistication to them. He used to think in Marathi and I used to tell him to think in English."
"He was very quiet and never chatted with the other reporters. He was a disciplinarian and used to come to office on time, do his work diligently, hand me the cartoons by evening and leave. Neither did he ever fight with anyone. Once outside the workplace he used to open up and we used to chat freely. We became very good friends," recalls Kamath.
"I once questioned him what he did when he started the Shiv Sena. So he invited me one day to Parel railway station and picked me up from there in his car only to spend the next four hours visiting the homes of mill workers in the many chawls scattered in and around Parel. He met each and every member of the families and enquired about their problems and just talked. I believe he was greatly influenced by his father and wanted to become a social reformer like him."
Kamath says that Balasaheb Thackeray the politician was a creation of circumstances. "Mumbai in the 1960s was undergoing too many changes and was in chaos. It needed a Bal Thackeray. The circumstances were such that you needed a man like Bal Thackeray to dominate Mumbai."
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