A friend whom even rivals trusted

Dharmendra Jore

Mumbai, Nov. 18 -- Ideological differences notwithstanding, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had the rare trait of making friends across parties. Rarely shy of lashing out at these friends when it came to defending his political position, Thackeray ensured their families shared a bond of love.

Supporting friends in their difficult times, Thackeray would also criticise them at a public platform if need be, or through caustic editorials in Sena mouthpiece Saamna.

Notable among Thackeray's friends were former chief ministers Sharad Pawar (NCP), the late Vasantrao Naik and AR Antulay (the latter two from the Congress).

His friendship with the late Pramod Mahajan of the BJP and socialist leader George Fernandes also led to power-sharing with their parties at the Centre and in the state.

Many believed that Pawar would never come close to the Sena chief after he named him 'maidyache pote' (a sack of flour) and launched a vitriolic campaign against him before the 1995 assembly polls.

But, in later years, Thackeray was seen relying heavily on Pawar's interventions when it came to crucial political decisions such as support for the Congress candidate in the presidential election despite an alliance with the BJP.

There were times when Thackeray went out of his way to help his friends. A case in point could be how Thackeray, on the request of the late actor-politician Sunil Dutt, helped secure the release of his son Sanjay, who was arrested in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case.

Thackeray had publicly said Sanjay was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.