Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena have been an unavoidable phase in the history of Mumbai and Maharashtra's politics, emerging from peculiar conditions that existed in India's financial capital in the 1960s.
Members of the Marathi-speaking community had expended much political
energy during the freedom movement and later, but as voting rights were restricted to tax-payers, the community did not feel politically empowered in Mumbai. With its dislike of commerce, the community also lagged behind other linguistic groups in economic terms.
The introduction of universal suffrage in 1948 and the formation of a linguistic state of Maharashtra - with Mumbai as its capital - in 1960 brought political empowerment. It was at this point that the community started questioning its continued economic backwardness.
Statistics, too, revealed that though Marathi-speaking people were well-represented in the old professions and in the city's textile sector, the community was under-represented in the newly-emerging service sector such as the banking, insurance and airline industries.
Significant sections of the community had cultural grievances as they felt that Mumbai was the only state capital in which the state's official language was not the language of the street, and where other communities like the Gujaratis, Marwaris and Parsees were not just economically but culturally better-represented.
Bal Thackeray had started his cartoon weekly Marmik primarily to provide light reading to readers, but the situation of the Marathi manoos, and the perceived grievances, found expressions in his cartoons right from the year 1960 in which the weekly was launched. Seeing these cartoons, entire groups of Maharashtrians started meeting him with their list of complaints. Sometime in 1963, he started publishing lists of non-Marathi names and published them under the headline, 'Read and sit silent.' After some time, he changed the headline to 'Read and rise.'
His father Prabodhankar then asked him to give this 'expression' an 'organised form' and came up with the word Shiv Sena for an organisation that could be launched.
Bal Thackeray thus cleverly tapped into the Marathi sentiment and in 1966 not only launched the Shiv Sena but also identified an enemy: he told the Maharashtrians that the South Indians or "yandugundus", as he called them, were taking their jobs away, and that they should take them on. And angry youths responded to him with alacrity.
In forming the Sena, Thackeray also filled the political vacuum created after the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti - which fought to get Samyukta Maharashtra approved by the Centre - was torn to shreds in the early '60s. He emerged as the man articulating regional aspirations, and he did so by espousing the cult of violence.
Allegations were then hurled that the Sena was actually the Congress's creation to crush the Communist movement, then strong in Mumbai, and Thackeray himself said he was implacably opposed to the Communists. The allegations stayed, but so did the Shiv Sena, and the Communists were decimated in the city; eventually, the Sena captured power in Maharashtra by defeating the Congress party.
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