There could be no two opinions that Balasaheb Thackeary, the 86-year-old Shiv Sena founder who died on Saturday, was one of the tallest leaders Mumbai had produced in the post-Independence era. And probably the most charismatic and most controversial too. Such was his hold over the metropolis, which remained the core of the Sena’s support-structure all through, that he could bring it to a grinding halt with the flick of his little finger. He commanded that kind of fierce loyalty of the Sainiks. To form a cadre-based party revolving around one’s own persona might have hurt the democratic sensibilities of some people, but there was no denying that without personal charisma and organizational skills, Thackeray the politician, could have come a cropper. The Sena might have been born as a result of the felt need of the then entrenched Congress leadership in Maharashtra to try and cut to size the militant communist trade unions ruling the roast in Mumabi in the 60s. But little did the Congress leadership realize at the time that soon the same Sena would become the biggest thorn in its side. For Thackeray, who had begun his professional life as a cartoonist in
this newspaper in the late 50s, would soon emerge as a key anti-Congress figure in the politics of the State. Having worsted the leftists in their bastions in Mumbai, Thackeray soon embraced the cause of the long-neglected Marathi Manoos. Done out of their due share in local jobs and economic opportunities, the newly-minted Shiv Sena hammered the theme of sons-of-the-soil to endear itself with the local youths. For historic reasons, Gujaratis, Parsis and South Indians flourished in the economic life of Mumbai, but Marathis felt left behind. Cleverly, Thackeray championed the Marathi cause, targeting the `outsider’ South Indians, to begin with. Much later he would shift his attention to Biharis and UP `Bhaiyyas’ with the same objective in view. With time he would abandon these parochial targets and embrace the Hindutva as his party’s chief leitmotif. It would soon pay him rich political dividends, with the BJP teaming up with the Sena to contest Assembly and parliamentary polls. For sure, the control of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation in 1985 helped the Sena spread its wings in other parts of Maharashtra. Factionalism in the Congress was his ally in widening the Sena influence in the State. However, the post-Babri Masjid blasts in Mumbai and the sectarian riots that followed them paved the way for the Sena-BJP alliance to come to power in the State. Power brought its own problems, with a number of key lieutenants deserting the Sena Pramukh after the alliance lost power. Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane left to join the NCP and the Congress respectively. But the Sena chief was unfazed. By now, he was ready to groom his son, Uddhav, as his successor. Nephew Raj Thackeray revolted and formed his own separate Sena. In his last years, Balasaheb could not have slept easy seeing his political legacy being bitterly divided between his son and nephew. The nephew showed more political savvy, more street-smartness.
However, in the last few months before his death, close well-wishers had initiated the