The emotional response that the 86-year-old Sena chief evoked among the masses was unparalleled in state politics, quite similar to the following that South Indian filmstars-turned-politicians NT Ramarao of Andhra Pradesh or MG Ramachandran of Tamil Nadu commanded.
For many, Thackeray was the most charismatic of the regional satraps, with unmatchable oratorical skills.
But, unlike NTR or the Dravidian patriarch Karunanidhi, Sena, under Thackeray, could never gain power and garner support from the whole state. So, why couldn't the Tiger form a government on his own?
The answer lies in the Sena's beginnings, political observers say.
"For a long time, Thackeray did not nurse grand political ambitions for his party. For nearly a decade, the Sena was supported by the Congress in its efforts to uproot the Communists from Mumbai, and did not take an anti-Congress stand,'' said Surendra Jondhale, a political analyst.
The Sena's policy also lacked an all-inclusive agenda that appealed to the rural as well as the urban vote bank. Thackeray's sons of the soil plank, which focussed on jobs for local youth, found resonance in Mumbai and Thane but not in the villages.
According to political analyst Uday Nirgudkar, the Sena never managed to breach the strong co-operative economy (sugar co-operatives, spinning mills, dairy, banks) of rural Maharashtra, which were controlled by Congress.
"It was the co-operative economy that decided the political hierarchy. For a farmer in rural Maharashtra, voting for the Congress, which ran his sugar co-operative and district bank, made more sense than voting based on ideology,'' Nirgudkar said.
Moreover, it was only in the late 80s, when Thackeray switched from the Marathi manoos plank to assume the larger identity of 'Hindu Hriday Samrat', that the Sena started to have a wider appeal.
The party also benefitted from the anti-incumbency and polarisation wave that spread across the state after the 1993 blasts and came to power in 1995.
But the Sena-led government failed to deliver. It was its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which got credit for building the Mumbai-Pune expressway and setting up irrigation development corporations.
Also, unlike his peers, Thackeray never contested any polls. Neither did he head a government.
In comparison, NTR managed to transfer his film persona as a messiah of the masses to execute his populist politics (he delivered on his electoral promise of Rs2 kg rice for agricultural labourers) combined with social justice and an anti-Congress plank.
NTR served as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh for three terms and Karunanidhi, who rode the anti-Brahmin wave, was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times. "The Sena failed to win the confidence of people as a valid alternative to the Congress. It was unfortunate," said Nirgudkar.