The 8th death anniversary of one of Maharashtra’s most recognisable and influential figures, Bal Thackeray or Balasaheb Thackeray, was observed on Tuesday. Balasaheb’s image with his rudrakhsh garland and thick-rimmed glasses is imprinted in public memory.
The Shiv Sena chief lived a long, eventful, and influential life for over eight decades.
Born on June 19, 1926, to Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, the seeds for his future prominence resided in the home he was born at as his father was a journalist and cartoonist (the profession with which Balasaheb kicked-off his career). His father was also a social activist who advocated for Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.
The ideology’s aim was to create a unified state for Marathi speakers, distinct and separate from the rest of the country. Balasaheb carried on his father’s inspirations later in his life and throughout his political career.
After his education, Balasaheb started working for the Free Press Journal as a cartoonist. He left the association later due to personal reasons and become a newspaper owner with his venture, News Day. It didn’t survive long. Then he began Marmik, a weekly political cartoon series focussed on rising problems of the Marathi youth.
The features included an increased influx of migrants, agitation over lack of jobs and opportunities, and so on. His political alignment was far-right, and he criticised everything towards the left-lean.
Later, his pro-Marathi and Marathi-manoos inspired weekly was ignored as he geared up to create the Shiv Sena in 1966. Then he launched Saamana, which continues till today, as mouthpiece for his party.
His work towards emancipating the Marathi youth by his many pro-Maratha stands taken in politics or his newspaper led to the title of Hindu Hruday Samrat or Emperor of Hindu Hearts. While his audience was held captive with every word he spoke, matters at home were a little different. His nephew, Raj Thackeray, had a very public feud with him after being side-lined as a possible successor to the Shiv Sena. Thus, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena was formed.
However, even now, years after his death, Shiv Sena is still going strong. The current government of Maharashtra is a gift of Balasaheb, who founded the basic principles that led his son, Uddhav Thackeray and Shiv Sena to their victories now.
Balasaheb’s footprints can be found outside of politics as well. He has been interviewed and included in Suketu Mehta’s bestselling non-fiction novel, Maximum City, an homage to the city of Mumbai. A satire version of Balasaheb featured in Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, which was banned in Maharashtra. The film series, Sarkar by Ram Gopal Verma was a fiction based loosely on Balasaheb and his legacy.