AT the very mention of Bal Thackeray, the late Shiv Sena supremo, what conjures up in our minds are his sons-of-the-soil policy, his Hindutva posturing and innumerable hate speeches. Ever since he started Shiv Sena in 1966 he had courted controversies with his speeches, comments, writings and actions on a plethora of issues.
Despite his strident policies he had been indulgent to several people who had been at odds with him on several matters. His life therefore bristled with contradictions as well, quite apart from controversies.
Whatever his shortcomings and views that were deemed to be narrow, the fact remains that he had reigned Bombay, now Mumbai, as the uncrowned king for over four decades. His state funeral, attended by some two million people, was testimony to the sway he had held
Thackeray started as a cartoonist in Fee Press Journal after Independence where he had the opportunity to work with the celebrated cartoonist, R.K. Laxman. Before long, he left the FPJ in a huff because, according to a version, he thought he did not get due recognition there and started Marmik, a magazine stuffed to the gills with caustic wit. The strident streak in his character was all too palpable in his in-your-face editorials in Saamna, a Marathi daily he launched later on.
Tackeray's courage in taking on successive governments run by the Congress which prided in nationalism and his belligerent attitude towards the south Indians who were seen to be grabbing jobs in Bombay appealed to the locals, especially those from the low and middle classes. His foot-soldiers targeted south Indians and vandalised the ubiquitous Udupi restaurants. If in those days the south Indians were the victims of the Sena's ire, these days the North Indians, not least the Biharis, are the target.
During the Hindutva movement that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Thackeray joined forces with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At one time he went into overdrive spewing out hate speeches that disturbed religious harmony and got himself on the wrong side of the law. Alliance with the BJP catapulted his party to power in the mid-nineties.
Sena has dominated the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, formerly Bombay Municipal Corporation, for several years but failed to take root in rural Maharashtra. Thackeray did try to expand his party network to the vast rural areas but to no avail perhaps because the villages did not have many outside people grabbing jobs.
The sons-of-the-soil policy and his hawkish stance on religion did not come in the way of his making friends with people from different states and religions. He had several close friends from the Muslim religion and rival political parties. Bollywood personalities, irrespective of their religion, state or colour, used to visit him for his blessings.
Whoever is in trouble, especially from the Sainiks, are guaranteed to ride it out if they pay obeisance to the Sena chief. When Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt was involved in a Tada (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act) case, his father and film-star turned Congress MP dashed to Matoshree, his residence. The result: the Sena honcho stood foursquare by Sanjay.
Even as the Sainiks dug the cricket pitch and aborted cricket matches with Pakistan, he invited Pakistan captain Javed Miandad to Matoshree. He set aside his political affiliations and supported Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee for the country's presidency. He established a strong bond with corporate chieftains though he had torn into them several times in the past for recruiting non-Maharashtrians.
While he sniffed at Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi who symbolised dynastic rule in the Congress, he unabashedly promoted dynastic rule in his own party. In the last public meeting at the sprawling Shivaji Park in Mumbai, he exhorted the Sainiks to lend their whole-hearted support to his son and executive president of the party, Uddhav Thackeray and grandson and Yuva Sena chief Aditya Thackeray.
Now that Thackeray has disappeared from the scene to be one with the soil, some questions that are bound to crop up in anybody's mind are: how his son, Uddhav and grandson Aditya Thackeray will take the party forward? Will they be able to take the senior leaders of the party along? Will there be a final patch-up with Raj Thackeray, their estranged cousin who heads the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) that could result in the latter's merger with Shiv Sena?
Uddhav and the rising star, Aditya, need to take care to propitiate the party grandees lest they flounce out of the party a la Chhagan Bhujbal and Narain Rane who had quit the Sena in the past to join rival parties.