When i first heard Balasaheb Thackeray in 1968, two years after the Sena was formed, he was attending a Ganeshotsav that I used to co-host as a businessman at Naigaon.
I was highly impressed with his oratorical skills and his call to the Marathi manoos. I felt this man was different. A few days later, I drove Balasaheb’s brother Shrikant (Raj Thackeray’s father) in my car to one of the initial rallies of the Shiv Sena at Pune’s Shaniwarwada.
After the rally, he got off the stage and we got introduced. When he came to know that I had a car, he sat in his and said ‘follow me’. I didn’t stop for 45 long years. Like me, his team that included Sudhir Joshi and Subhash Desai, was formed on the single common thread that we fell for Thackeray.
The Shiv Sena was formed with the intention of doing social work. In the initial years, Balasaheb used to even come to my ward, pick up the broom and clean it, he even planted trees. But, he found the party’s calling with the issue of employment rights of the Marathi manoos. The Sena’s fight began with employment in public companies and it went on to fight for the rights of mill workers.
This was during the late 1970s when his popularity grew. His speeches filled with humour and mimicry were a major attraction and unique to him. He could take anyone on. He would also mimic Sena leaders, scold the Sainiks, cheer them up; he was one of them and that’s what worked in his favour.
The turning point for Balasaheb and the Sena came when we won the Lok Sabha elections on the issue of Hindutva, which stayed with him forever. He even wrote an editorial in the Saamna saying Indira’s Congress would have to go. I never ever thought we would win the elections and Balasaheb was so positive that we would wonder whether it was overconfidence. Yet, when we lost the next election, he didn’t brood over it, he got back to the planning board and started to strategise his next move.
His biggest quality was that he stood by his men like a mountain and did not look at his Sainiks’ caste. During the Babri masjid incident, he said if it were his Sainiks who were there, he was proud of them. Even when it came
to selecting the chief minister for the Sena-BJP government, he chose me, a Brahmin, which would never have been possible in a state where only Marathas occupy the seat.
He used to be referred to as a ‘remote control’ of the government when I was the CM, which he was. Every day was a surprise and I used to follow every decision he took. We always knew his intentions were people-centric.
One of the most difficult moments for him in the Sena, which he expressed recently in rallies, was the split with Raj and the formation of the MNS. Although he never discussed it with us openly, we could feel his pain.
Today he is no more, and it is a great void in my life.
As told to Sayli Udas Mankikar