Bal Thackeray: The Man Who Brought Mumbai to Its Knees Many Times

From being a journalist to becoming one of Maharashtra's most prominent leaders, Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray has lived many lives, and in those many lives, he wielded power like no other.

He could bring the entire city of Mumbai to a halt without even holding a seat in the Parliament. A classic example of his power is how Mumbai stood still the day he passed away. 

Bal Thackeray’s funeral procession.

Born on 23 January 1927, Thackeray was always a rebel – sporting an impressive skill set of analysing situations and reading between the lines, amongst many others.

Starting his career as a cartoonist for the Free Press Journal, he later moved on to found a Marathi political magazine Marmik with his brother.

Archival photograph from Raj Thackeray’s book on Bal Thackeray showing him sketching a cartoon for the Free Press Journal.

His political career was sparked by his desire to restore Marathi pride and the need for a party to represent Marathi interests. Thus came Shiv Sena in the 1966, and the rest is history.

Popularly known as the “Tiger” of Mumbai, it is said that Balasaheb Thackeray virtually ruled Mumbai for decades through his “remote control” style of politics. 

The ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’, Balasaheb Thackeray. 

With a right-wing Hindu ideology and populist style of politics, Thackeray opposed the influence of Marwaris, Gujaratis and southern Indians in Mumbai. He was also opposed to the influence of communists, particularly trade unions. The main focus of his politics was the “Marathi Manus”.

Thackeray’s Sena started making their way into the Maharashtra government, first through the mayoral elections and later through the Assembly elections. He had full control of Shiv Sena’s ministers in Parliament, who he used at times to push his agenda forward – mostly through his mobilisation of the masses.

For a vocal person like him, however, controversy couldn’t be too far behind. He was openly supportive of the Ram Mandir movement, and supported the 1975 emergency.

He was criticised for having deepend the ethnic fabric of Maharashtra and was accused of being involved in the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots which killed approximately 900 Muslims, but never faced trial.

File photo of Shiv Sena Founder Bal Thackeray. 

Thackeray started writing editorials again in 1988 after launching a Marathi newspaper Saamana.

Vocal, polarising and influential – these characteristics defined him till the very end, when he breathed his last on 17 November 2012, having changed Maharashtra politics forever.

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