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Cartoonist who redrew M’rashtra’s politics
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, November 17
As Bal Thackeray himself once told an interviewer he would have stuck to cartooning if the management of the Free Press Journal, where he was first employed, had agreed to his request and allowed him to sit farther away from the office toilet!

The budding cartoonist’s request was turned down and he quit in a huff to start his own publication, Marmik, inspired by the satirical magazine Punch.

The satirical publication won critical acclaim as it was then reportedly the only satirical magazine in the Marathi language.

Thackeray's own cartoons lampooning the leading lights of the day: Jawaharlal Nehru, his Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon and other leading lights of the era won him respect but little by way of mass readership or financial success.

By the mid-1960s, the Samyukta Maharashtra movement which fought for the inclusion of Mumbai (then Bombay) in Maharashtra when Gujarat was carved out of the state, had outlived its utility.

The heady success of winning Bombay for Maharashtra gave way to growing alarm that Gujaratis still controlled the city's economy while the South Indians arriving in droves got the jobs due to their proficiency in English.

It is this growing disquiet that some proponents of Marathi, including Thackeray's father Keshav, an early proponent of social reform in Maharashtra, tapped into.

Thanks to his charisma as a cartoonist and his witty style of speech, the early crusaders for Marathi pride chose Bal Thackeray as their icon to mobilise the masses. Young Bal did not disappoint. His early issues of Marmik showed the kind of demagoguery that the Shiv Sena came to exhibit in later years.

After a campaign against Gujaratis that did not create more than ripples, Thackeray zeroed on the South Indians - Madrasis in his lingo - the people from the same social strata as his own followers but who bagged the jobs right from under the nose of the sons of the soil.

To rouse the rabble against the migrants, Thackeray hit upon the tactic of publishing the names and addresses of all the South Indians in the local telephone directory. The headline: Read this and wake up! helped bring in the crowds at the Shiv Sena's inaugural rally at Shivaji Park in 1966.

The lumpen elements who showed up went on to trash Udupi restaurants owned by the Shettys of Karnataka and attack migrants arriving in Mumbai from the southern states. The Shiv Sena had clearly arrived.

Political success did not take long in coming. The very next year after its foundation, the Sena opened its innings at the Thane Municipal Corporation winning 15 of the 40 seats.

In 1968, the Shiv Sena made its entry into the Mumbai municipal corporation. The cynical bosses of the Congress who lorded over Maharashtra then found in Thackeray a useful weapon to target the Communists who posed a tough challenge to the grand old party.

Thackeray didn't disappoint. Goons encouraged by him went on to murder the then the CPI (M) MLA Krishna Desai in 1970. The Sena then went onto establish its base in Central Mumbai with more than a little help from the Congress.

However the Shiv Sena's trademark Mumbai Bandh came about in 1969 after the Maharashtra government arrested Bal Thackeray for fomenting trouble over the Maharashtra - Karnataka border dispute. The first of the many bandhs ensured that Mumbaikars would live in fear of the party's lumpen hordes for the next several decades.

Though seats in civic bodies and the Maharashtra legislature followed, it was not till the communal polarization of 1992-93 post-Babri Masjid riots that Thackeray could really taste power in the state. The 1994 elections which saw Thackeray's saffron flag flying at Mantralaya, the state secretariat also marked the tragedies in his personal life. Both his wife Meenatai and son Bindumadhav died within two years and Thackeray was an old tired man with a 'remote control' in his hand.

The subsequent years saw Thackeray's power wane. Unlike other 'traitors' who broke away from the Shiv Sena, Chhagan Bhujbal defected to the Congress remained strong enough to damage the party among the Other Backward Castes from where it drew much of its strength.

Bal Keshav Thackeray 1926-2012
You loved him, you hated him, but you could never ignore him. That was Bal Thackeray, a fierce proponent of Hindutva, who built his brand of politics around the regional pride of 112 million people of Maharashtra 

Birth: 23 January 1926 Pune, Maharashtra

Party: Shiv Sena

Spouse: Meenatai

Children: Three

Profession: Cartoonist turned politician

Founder and chief: Shiv Sena

Professional career
As a cartoonist in daily ‘The Free Press Journal’, Mumbai; left in 1960

  • His cartoons were also published in the Sunday edition of The Times of India
  • Started his own political weekly ‘Marmik’


  • The Sena chief with his family members
    The Sena chief with his family members
    June 19, 1966: Formed Shiv Sena
  • He and his political party opposed the celebrations of Valentine’s Day
  • 1989: Sena newspaper ‘Saamna’ launched
  • Shiv Sena later allied itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
  • 1995: BJP-Shiv Sena combine wins Maharashtra Assembly elections
  • July 28, 1999: Thackeray banned from voting and contesting in any election for six years from December 11, 1999
  • 2004: Thackeray hands over party's reins to son Uddhav when he was appointed the party's working president.
  • 2005-06: Sena splits twice, first in 2005 and again in 2006. First Narayan Rane walks out, then Raj, who forms Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). MNS jolts Sena in 2009 when the latter failed to win assembly elections
  • 2010: Thackeray introduces grandson Aditya as the chief of the new Sena youth outfit Yuva Sena. Thackeray

Died: November 17, 2012 at 3.30 pm following a cardiac arrest at his residence ‘Matoshree’ in suburban Bandra

Text by PTI





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