Eight failures of Bal Thackeray

Last Updated: Sun, Nov 18, 2012 07:50 hrs

Bal Thackeray was the Tiger of Mumbai and a colossus who strode on the Maharashtra political scene for ages. He symbolized a great deal of pride for a large section of his fellow Marathis and had an aura that very few political leaders have achieved in our time.

While his many successes have been celebrated and talked about a lot, he also had a string of failures and must have had a few regrets in his last days. A look at some of them…

1. He never became Chief Minister.

When Thackeray launched the Shiv Sena, there is no doubt that he aspired to be CM of Maharashtra. During that era, many were convinced that he would indeed become CM. The anti-Congress movement launched by ex-Congressman Ram Manohar Lohia in the early 1960s saw many states toppling the Congress.

But with each passing year, it seemed quite difficult that the Sena would ever come to power on its own and somewhere in the 1980s, he gave up his ambition to become CM. By the time the Sena-BJP alliance came to power in 1995, he had totally become a behind the scenes player.

2. He couldn’t totally break the stranglehold of the Congress.

When the DMK kicked the Congress out of Tamil Nadu in 1967, they’ve done it for 45 year and counting. That has been the case with many states like West Bengal, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. NT Rama Rao was a great success in Andhra Pradesh and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa.

Thackeray could never ever muster up those numbers in the state Assembly. If you look at the period from 1947-2012, then Maharashtra remains one of the biggest strangleholds of the Congress. In fact, leaving two terms totalling about 6 odd years, every CM of Maharashtra has been from the Congress.

3. He couldn’t retain Chaggan Bhujbal.

This former mayor of Mumbai was once the mascot of the Shiv Sena and a possible successor to Bal Thackeray. He is also an OBC leader and commanded a large chunk of the votebank, so important in India’s grim caste-based politics.

When Bhujbal joined the Congress in 1991, it was one of the biggest coups ever in the state and merited banner headlines in Marathi papers even though it wasn’t seen that big in the rest of India. The Sena lost a huge chunk of support after that.

4. He couldn’t keep Raj Thackeray in the ranks.

After the exit of Bhujbal, Raj Thackeray emerged as his successor. Raj had great support within the party, was charismatic and modelled himself after his uncle Bal Thackeray. Raj also fulfilled the conditions of dynastic politics, another tradition in India.

However when Bal Thackeray surprised everyone by naming his son Uddhav as his successor, then the Sena was split right down to the middle. Raj formed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which has severely eaten into the Sena votebank.

5. Sena’s only government was fleeting.

When the Sena-BJP government came into power in 1995, this was the first real chance to show that Maharashtra could do without the Congress. However nothing of the sort happened and it was marked by years of misrule.

First Manohar Joshi was made the CM and then changed mid-stream to Narayan Rane. Thackeray handled the first remote control, similar to what Congress President Sonia Gandhi is doing at the Centre. The Sena government was voted out of power in 1999 and is yet to make a comeback after that.

6. He was overshadowed by Sharad Pawar.

How would Thackeray’s life have been different had Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar not been there? In every step of the way, Pawar stymied Thackeray. It was Pawar and not Thackeray who formed the first non-Congress government in Maharashtra in the form of the Progressive Democratic Front in 1978.

He manoeuvrings kept the Sena in check right throughout the 1980s and in 1991, he snatched away Bhujbal. After 1999, his NCP and the Congress have both got together to shut out the Sena-BJP alliance.

7. Violence from the beginning to the end.

It is a very sad fact of Indian politics that all parties indulge in violence to achieve their ends. The number of communal riots that have taken place under Congress rule is simply mind-boggling. However they have cleverly used every riot to their advantage.

The BJP reaped huge dividends after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. However all these parties use it as a launching pad for eventual power. Even something like the Mandal Commission was implemented after a violent agitation.
But the Sena have never been able to shake off their violence tag right from the 1960s to this very day. Thackeray also used a lot of hate speech to get ahead.

8. His legacy.

Due to all of the above factors, the Sena legacy is quite shaky. Imagine Bhujbal and Raj as the party president and CM of Maharashtra respectively. That would have got tremendous appeal all over the state rather than the current dispensation.

Bal Thackeray championed the “Marathi Manoos” card and later switched to Hindutva, but the former has now been hijacked by Raj. If the Congress-NCP combine gets re-elected in 2014, then the Sena could well become defunct having been out of power for around two decades.

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.

He blogs at