Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s funeral was a mega-event. It was attended by lakhs of genuine admirers, many of whom broke down after watching their beloved leader’s last rites. There is no doubt that Thackeray has been Maharashtra’s most popular politician.
He also has a pan-India appeal.
A look at some of the reasons why he found admirers from all walks of life…
1. He wasn't a hypocrite.
Every political party is communal in nature, uses violence and riots to further their goals and is starkly opportunistic in nature. However they have mastered double speak: They call themselves secular and progressive and mouth cliches and platitudes even if they don’t believe in them at all.
The difference with Shiv Sena and Thackeray was what you saw was exactly what you got. Thackeray clearly listed out his ideals in life no matter how controversial they were and he stuck to them. You could never ever accuse him of being a hypocrite!
2. He was a Godfather.
In many global lists, the Hollywood movie Godfather emerges as the greatest movie of all time. Most people are great admirers of the concept of a godfather and that’s why such movies are successful.
Thackeray was a godfather in real life. He was the head of the Sena which was feared all over and nobody wanted to cross his path. He was briefly arrested in 1969 but thereafter no matter what his crimes were, he remained untouched.
The Bollywood movie Sarkar cashed in on Thackeray’s godfather status.
3. He countered the Left.
After Independence, India emerged as a Left-leaning nation. The political establishment, intellectuals, media and historians were all Left-leaning. There was a great vacuum in the Right and Thackeray was one of the largest figures to fill that space.
4. He did what he wanted.
While most of us are tied down by convention, tradition, society and the like, Thackeray emerged as a man of his own standing. He said what he wanted and did what he wanted. He was seen as a strong dictatorial-type of figure and such personalities have always had their fair share of supporters throughout history.
5. He took up populist causes.
He always captured the pulse of the common Marathi Manoos and knew what they were thinking, always remaining one step ahead of them. He was responsible strongly for the formation of the identity of Maharashtra after it formed statehood.
He was responsible for the decline of the trade unions. He formed an alliance with the BJP in the 1980s when he saw that the BJP was gaining in popularity and he finally embraced Hindutva after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
6. He wasn't politically correct.
Thackeray never believed in being politically correct. If the mood was against south Indians, then many politicians tried to bring a balance, but not Thackeray. He would embrace the anti-South sentiment. If the mood was against north Indians, he would follow suit. He even became anti-Muslim when it suited him.
When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared Emergency, it was politically correct for the entire Opposition to condemn it squarely. Not Thackeray, who admired the move. He even expressed admiration for Hitler’s military conquests and leadership style.
7. He was larger than life.
Bal Thackeray was the Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena was Bal Thackeray. He strode the political stage of Maharashtra like a colossus. He had a certain aura about him. Everyone who met him was in awe of him.
In the second half of his career he remained largely behind the scenes and his aura grew. He would sit on a throne-like chair and greet all kinds of big-wigs from all across India much like a monarch greeted his subjects. He was a larger than life figure and people loved him for that.
8. He successfully used Shivaji’s legacy.
Shivaji has been one of the greatest kings of India. Between the Mughal and British empires, the Maratha empire spread all across India and was the biggest of its time. Thackeray successfully capitalized on this legacy and instilled pride throughout the state.
While Shiv Sena literally means Shiva’s army, it also sounds like Shivaji’s army. Goddess Bhavani rode a tiger and Shivaji was her disciple. That’s why Thackeray made the tiger the logo of his party.
Love him or hate him, you definitely couldn’t ignore him!
Thackeray was a cultish figure with a cult-like following. One doubts whether Maharashtra will ever be able to produce another Marathi Manoos like him.
More by this author:
Eight failures of Bal Thackeray
Rahul Gandhi disappoints yet again
The good, the bad and the ugly side of Azhar
Obama wins, but the world is still losing
What is wrong with Rahul Gandhi?
Now jail is only a click away
Busting holy cows, Kejriwal style