A Hindu Hriday Samrat who channelized the energy of Marathi self respect into the development of Maharashtra
Birth: 23 Jan 1927
People born with a deep compassion for one’s land feel gratified and a great sense of worth in expending their life for the benefit of their land. Unfortunately, a community that gets used to one’s helplessness and poverty starts valuing money more than the love of one’s land. Even the riff raff begin to dream of power. It was when Maharashtra was in this state of affairs that the roar of the young Bal Keshav Thackeray, eager to work for his land, reached the minds of Maharashtrians and the ears of India. It challenged the dominance of outsiders and shook Maharashtra up.
BalaSaheb was born on 23rd January 1927 in Pune in a family that traditionally worked for awakening the community. At that time, his father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray alias Prabhodhankar (one who awakens) was burning the midnight lamp to awaken the community through his writing, oration and his constructive work. Prabhodhankar had launched an intense battle against unjust practices and traditions and caste discrimination. At the same time, he was making valuable contributions towards the United Maharashtra struggle. BalaSaheb inherited these qualities of awakening, progressive thinking and assertiveness from his father.
Initially he commenced his journey into social activism as an artist, by publishing his opinion on social and national affairs through his political cartoons. He started working as a cartoonist for the Free Press Journal in 1950. He also worked for a while with the illustrious cartoonist, R. K. Laxman. While working for the Free Press Journal, BalaSaheb also freelanced as an artist, cartoonist and advertisement designer for multiple organisations, periodicals and companies.
Later, BalaSaheb decided to quit working and start his own cartoon weekly. Accordingly, he started the weekly titled Marmik (subtle) in August 1960. It was his father Prabhodhankar who suggested the title Marmik for the weekly. It was the first Marathi cartoon weekly. The first edition of the Marmik was inaugurated at the hands of Yashwantrao Chavan, the then chief minister of Maharashtra. The illustrious Prof. Ananat Kanekar was also present at the occasion. BalaSaheb started the weekly with the intention of social development of Maharashtra and for awakening the self respect among Maharashtrians. Although United Maharashtra was successfully established, the Marathi community was yet being unjustly discriminated against in Mumbai. The Marmik voiced this issue in public. Through the medium of cartoons, BalaSaheb was the first who tried to make outsiders who came into Maharashtra harbouring disrespect against Maharashtrians toe the line. Since 1960, Marmik has been essaying an important role in guiding the Marathi community in important national and State level issues and historical happenings.
BalaSaheb reflected that the deformity that had developed in Maharashtra of discrimination and injustice against the Marathi community could not be eliminated merely through cartoons. There had to be a greater collective effort towards the same. With the intent of instilling the pride of one’s State, self respect and Shivaji Maharaj’s assertiveness into each Maharashtrian, BalaSaheb established the political party Shiv Sena on 19th June, 1966. He realised that though Maharashtra was progressive through the rich heritage of social reformers, the Marathi community was yet regressed. BalaSaheb’s minute observation determined that though there are excellent facilities in Maharashtra, the Marathi people are impeded, though there are industries in Maharashtra, the Marathi people are unemployed and though there is wealth in Maharashtra, the Marathi people are poor. Though Maharashtra is respected throughout the nation, the Marathi community is disrespected in his own State, especially in Mumbai, the State’s capital. BalaSaheb enlightened Maharashtra of this contradiction through the Shiv Sena. The Marathi community became organised through this medium. Shiv Sena’s first public meeting was held at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on 30th October, 1966. Approximately five lakh people attended this meet. It was through this meet at the historic Shivaji Park that BalaSaheb established his relationship with the massive congregation of Marathi people. From that day onwards, citizens, political leaders, journalists and scholars have a keen ear tuned in towards the messages that BalaSaheb delivers from time to time from the podium at Shivaji Park.
Along with oration, poignant writing is also one of BalaSaheb’s vital talents. His writing displays the influence of the great social reformers, Prabhodhankar Thackeray and Acharya Atre. Besides, he also has the piercing, selective observation that makes a good cartoonist. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Samna isn’t simply the Shiv Sena’s party magazine but is in fact the voice of all Maharashtrians. The entire Maharashtra eagerly awaits BalaSaheb’s editorials in the Samna.
Initially popular in the urban cities like Mumbai and Thane, Shiv Sena’s popularity soon spread like wild fire into remote rural villages. The party started capturing important political positions in urban and rural area alike, like Corporator, Mayor and people’s representative at all administrative levels. Later, an alliance was formed between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by BalaSaheb and Pramod Mahajan, the then leader of the BJP. Through the concerted campaigning and touring by Shiv Sena’s leaders, the Shiv Sena- BJP alliance came to power in 1995. Manohar Joshi became the first Chief Minister of this rule of Maharashtra by the Maharashtrians. It was the first non-Congress rule in Maharashtra. This transfer of power from the generations-old Congress party became a reality only through the efforts of Shiv Sena leader BalaSaheb Thackeray.
Along with his intense pride of Maharashtra and love for Mumbai, BalaSaheb also staunchly expressed his opinions on Hindutva. He openly vouched for deporting terrorists who indulged in bombing and other disruptive activities. He objected to the favouritism displayed towards the Muslim community in the hope of capturing their vote bank, while assuring that he had no bone of contention against the nationalist Muslims who considered India as their country. He publicly questioned the efficacy of providing special facilities, which weren’t even provided by the Muslim dominated Arabic countries, to the Muslims in India. It is this staunch, open and unmistakable perspective that justifies his being called a Hindu Hriday Samrat. The proclamation Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hai (Let us Declare Ourselves Hindu with pride) was given true meaning in Maharashtra through the efforts of the Shiv Sena.
BalaSaheb ideated many programmes and projects which have been successfully implemented like the Zunka-Bhakar Centre scheme (providing a healthy subsidised meal through kiosks strategically located in cities), a chain of Old Age Homes, special facilities for the old, housing for the slum dwellers, the Mumbai – Pune Expressway, flyovers in Mumbai, reverting of the name Bombay to Mumbai, etc. He also initiated the protest against culturally destructive western festivals like Valentine Day, agitations against the power play by outsiders to Maharashtra and against infiltrators from Bangladesh.
BalaSaheb never indulged in caste discrimination in politics. He also gave wings to the dreams of youth, which is why Marathi youth of different castes were able to get and continue to get powerful positions. This is the major difference between the Shiv Sena and other political parties, and BalaSaheb and other political leaders.
BalaSaheb never indulged in caste discriminative politics, power play under the guise of establishing co-operatives and sugar industries and the shrewd traditional politics of Maharashtra. BalaSaheb set forth on his mission through influencing the youth with the pride of Maharashtra, understanding the needs and thoughts of the masses and unequivocally stating this through oration and initiating multiple agitations through aggressive congregation of masses. BalaSaheb moulded innumerable great leaders like Manohar Joshi, Sudhir Joshi, Late Pramod Navalkar, Madhukar Sarpotdar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Suresh Prabhu, Late Anand Dighe, Dattaji Nalavade and Neelam Gorhe. He also had a lion’s share in moulding both Uddhav Thackeray, the current Executive President of Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray, the President of Maharashtra NavNirman Sena. Giving appropriate guidance to the politics of power without holding a seat of power is also BalaSaheb’s unique method of politics.
Many leaders come to power and go. Elections, campaigning, position, wealth and finally one’s own statue installed somewhere– this is where the politics of most leaders start and end. But there is never an end to a warrior who expends his life for the benefit of society. BalaSaheb Keshav Thackeray, the Chief of Shiv Sena, is one such warrior.
A vociferous protest of Marathi dissatisfaction and joyous outcry of Marathi pride is the voice of BalaSaheb, the Chief of Shiv Sena. There are only two things which burn perennially in the hearts of each person who is born in the land of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The first of these is the feats of valour of Shivaji and the second is the aggressive, inspirational oration and ideologies of Hindu Hriday Samrat BalaSaheb Thackeray.