He is gone but the fascination with this reed-thin man with his mesmeric oratory, his prejudices, his penchant for what he considered the fine things of life still remains. Few of you will remember that the first Shiv Sena rally in 1966 was addressed not by Bal Thackeray but by Ramrao Adik, who later became deputy chief minister in 1995.
It was Adik's intelligence that drove the Sena in the early years, for Bal Thackeray's party then was only one among many who had the same idea - of tapping into the disgruntlement of the Marathi man-oos against "outsiders" in Mumbai. Adik had floated the Maharashtra Hitwardhini, as had Madhav Desh-pande, one of Thackeray's confidantes in the early years. Both merged their respective organisations with the Sena and stepped aside for Thackeray when they realised he was a much better orator and connected better with the masses than them. Thackeray's speeches were chatty, rustic, gossipy rather than pre-achy. He regaled the audiences with his inimitable mimicry of leaders and social entities of the time.
Later, Adik was poached by Rajni Patel of the Congress and Deshpande and others like him abandoned Thackeray when they could not agree with his politics. Thackeray had been set up in business by the Congress and corporates of the 1960s who were sick of the Communist domination of the trade unions in Mumbai. The Sena was both funded by the ruling party and forgiven for its transgressions because Thackeray served them well. For example, Thackeray supported the Emergency, called a bandh when Indira Gandhi was arrested in 1978 and withdrew his candidates during the 1980 assembly elections, enabling a Congress victory against Sharad Pawar's PDF. That is when he lost most other socialist friends and he was left with just a core of Sainiks like Manohar Joshi and others who had nowhere else to go.
Things might have gone on famously for the Shiv Sena did come to power with a new-found friend - the BJP - even as Thackeray abandoned his "pragmatic socialism" in the interest of the Marathi manoos for a larger Hindutva. However, the tiger cubs, Uddhav and Raj, his son and nephew, got in the way of things, emerging as dual power centres within Matoshree. When I asked Thackeray if his "upnetas" like Joshi might not suffer some heartburn on account of being upstaged by his son and nephew, he said, "I have not cut open their hearts to see if they are burning.'' "I have not, too,'' laughed Joshi who was sitting in on that interview.
But I thought Thackeray should have taken the heartburn a lot more seriously. For there was indeed a lot of resentment, particularly about Raj's disrespectful ways towards his seniors. Given his impossible behaviour, they then got together to drive a wedge between the two cousins and that proved to be a major reason for the downslide of the party even while it was still ruling Maharashtra. Eventually it destroyed the Sena.
The Sena was started as a collective and was never meant for dynastic succession. But then the ambitions of the two cousins put the party on a downward slope from which it never recovered. Ultimately, with Uddhav prevailing over his father to declare him as the Sena's working president, Raj was left with no option but to split the Sena. He is now left with little option but to safeguard his own Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, formed in 2006, for his goons do not enjoy the kind of patronage that his uncle's street fighters did. Moreover, his older cousin has made it amply clear that he is unwelcome - either at Matoshree or in the Sena though they put up a joint show at Thackeray's funeral.
I believe it highly unlikely that the two cousins will forge a common front to fend off the vultures - the Congress, the NCP and even the BJP which is, in turn, fed up of the alliance for limiting its own growth in the state. The BJP would like to chart its own course and the Congress does not relish raising another Frankenstein's monster by supporting either the Sena or the MNS, overtly or even covertly.
Communism in Mumbai is dead. Hindutva is losing its appeal. The Marathi manoos has now begun to realise that he has been left behind on the shelf. A large section of Maharashtrians do not want jobs in the unorganised sector which is all that both the Senas are fighting for against north Indians. In a changing polity and globalising economy, the Marathi manoos wants to be much more than just a turner or fitter at the docks or a taxi driver on the streets of Mumbai.
Unless Uddhav, who has been formally left in charge of the main party by his father, is able to effect a sea change in its character - a near impossible task given its DNA which is brawn rather than brains - Bal Thackeray's party might be well and truly over. It is just a matter of time.