Bal Keshav Thackeray, commonly known as Balasaheb Thackeray, was a prominent Indian politician and the founder of the Shiv Sena, a right-wing pro-Marathi and Hindu nationalist party that primarily operated in the state of Maharashtra. Thackeray, born on 23 January 1926, commenced his professional journey as a cartoonist at the English-language daily, The Free Press Journal in Bombay. However, his passion for advocating his political beliefs led him to leave the paper in 1960 and establish his own political weekly, Marmik.
Thackeray’s political ideology was significantly influenced by his father, Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, a key figure in the Samyukta Maharashtra (United Maharashtra) movement. This movement aimed at creating a separate linguistic state for Marathi speakers. Through his publication, Marmik, Thackeray vehemently campaigned against the increasing influence of non-Marathi individuals in Mumbai, reflecting his commitment to the cause of Marathi identity and culture.
Thackeray’s impact on the political landscape of Maharashtra, particularly in Mumbai, was immense. He played a pivotal role in shaping the ideology of the Shiv Sena, which gained considerable traction under his leadership. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Thackeray, with the support of individuals like Madhav Mehere, chief attorney for the trade union of India, Babasaheb Purandare, a historian for the Government of Maharashtra, and Madhav Deshpande, Head Accountant for Shiv Sena, worked tirelessly to establish the party. Their efforts contributed significantly to the party’s success and ensured political stability in Mumbai until the early 2000s. Thackeray also founded the Marathi-language newspaper Saamana, further amplifying his party’s reach and influence.
However, Thackeray’s political journey was not without controversy. During the 1992–1993 Bombay riots, an inquiry report by human rights organizations indicated that Thackeray, along with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Manohar Joshi, incited members of the Shiv Sena to commit violence against Muslims. This incident raised concerns about communal tensions in the region.
In response to these events, Thackeray and his party adopted a Hindutva stance after the riots. In 1999, he faced severe consequences from the Election Commission, which banned him from voting and contesting in any election for six years due to his involvement in seeking votes on religious grounds. Despite these setbacks, Thackeray’s influence remained substantial, and he continued to shape the political discourse in Maharashtra.
Thackeray’s political journey was marked by multiple arrests and brief periods of imprisonment. However, he never faced significant legal repercussions for his actions. Although he held no official positions within the government, his sway over the Shiv Sena and his followers was undeniable.
Upon his demise on 17 November 2012, Thackeray received a state funeral, a testament to his enduring influence and the impact he had on Maharashtra’s political landscape. It’s noteworthy that despite never being formally elected as the leader of his party, Thackeray’s legacy continued through the Shiv Sena, which remained a prominent force in Maharashtra politics.