The “Tiger” of Maharashtra Balasaheb Thackarey.

They say that death is the final destination in the journey of a human and so the recent passing away of the Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray has indeed brought to an end a journey of one of the most charismatic and yet in many ways a contradictory politician that India has ever seen. A journey that began in Shivaji Park and quite fittingly has ended in Shivaji Park as well.

The life of Balasaheb does raise a pertinent question which is how did a political cartoonist working at Free Press Journal become the chief of Shiv Sena and a mass leader for so many people in Maharashtra? The answer to this question lies in the birth of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti a movement undertaken for creation of a separate Marathi speaking state in which Balasaheb’s father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray was a key member who played an integral part in eventually establishing an independent state of Maharashtra. It was from his father that the young Balasaheb inherited political awareness which in the near future would enable him to become a kind of mass leader that India had never seen. So the actual journey of Balasaheb began at Free Press Journal as a political cartoonist who also happened to work with the great RK Laxman at that time. Armed with flair for drawing caricatures and political awareness Balasaheb began using this talent to comment on the growing number of non Marathi’s in the city of Mumbai. On May 1st 1960 Maharashtra finally was granted a status of an independent state with the population predominantly speaking Marathi. Unfortunately between the years 1960 to 1966 there was lack of job opportunities for the locals and even if there were some opportunities they were taken up by either migrant Gujrathis or South Indians. This ever growing frustration was not only affecting the locals but also within the political cartoonist himself. It is the direct result of this frustration within the locals that Balasaheb decided to take charge and provide leadership and more importantly give the Maharashtrian youth an identity that was sorely missing at that time. So it was on June 19th 1966 that Balasaheb formed his new political party which was named Shiv Sena. It’s main objective was to fight for the right’s for the Marathi people i.e. manoos and to provide them with appropriate job’s so they can earn their livelihood. Thus began the journey of the Shiv Sena and whose symbol became the bow and the arrow.

Using violence as a political weapon the Sena led by a charismatic Balasaheb continued to increase their clout in the city on a day to day basis. So from targeting the South Indian and Gujrathis, to the Trade Unions, to the Muslims and finally to the North Indians the Sena grew to such an extent that eventually the Sena finally won the 1985 BMC elections in Mumbai and that proved to be a turning point for Balsaheb and his Sena. Yet another turning point came in 1995 when using the communal Babri-Masjid issue and the Hindutva ideology as an weapon the Sena in alliance with BJP won the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections and came into power. From this point onwards till the end of the BJP-Shiv Sena tenure in 1999 Balasaheb was supposed to have possessed a “remote control” in his hand and by and large controlled the government and thus giving power a new definition.

As a human Balasaheb was a man who loved the good life so be it his fondness for cigar or good glass of wine he loved them all. He also had  this great gift as an orator with a good dose of humor in the form of witty one liners to add to it which is why thousands thronged to his now famous Dusshera rally held yearly at Shivaji Park in the city of Mumbai. He also had an eye for the pulse for the people and always kept a watch on them. Balasaheb was in a strange way a real contradiction as on one hand he would use violence to oppose migrant influx and on the other hand would talk about being Indians first rather than belonging to particular religion, caste etc. In his political moves too there were a lot of contradictions from supporting the Congress during emergency to finally eventually forming an alliance with BJP in 1995 whom he had ridiculed many years earlier. He was also a man of his word who would always stand by it as Chhagan Bhujbal a former Sainik rightly commented “When Balasaheb felt something was right he would say it. He did not think how it would affect the party.” What also made Balasaheb special was that he created the party out of no family or political backing. Although it is fair enough to say that the method of violence used by Balasaheb as his political weapon was not appropriate. Overall Balasaheb was an enigma who had many facets to his personality which was not easy to decipher.

So the death of Balasaheb certainly brings to a close an era and with it brings a real challenge for Shiv Sena and only time will tell whether Uddhav and his son Aditya are ready to meet those challenges. Although the fact of the matter remains that it was due to the charisma and powerful oratory possessed by Balasaheb that allowed the party to survive for this long. We may disagree with the politics of violence he used for his benefit, or may even hate him for his role in the 1992 Mumbai riots but what we cannot deny is the fact that he gave an identity to the Maharashtrian’s all around the state and lived his life with courage of that of a Tiger. So with the grand state funeral that he received at Shivaji Park we can finally bid adieu to the only “Tiger” we have seen not only at the state level politics but also at the national level politics.

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They say that death is the final destination in the journey of a human and so the recent passing away of the Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray has indeed brought to an end a journey of one of the most charismatic and yet in many ways a contradictory politician...