Arguably the most controversial figure of post-independence India, the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray is the most powerful man in Maharashtra and an equally feared and hated personality. With his amazingly absolute control over his fiercely loyal Shiv Sainiks, he can bring Mumbai and Maharashtra to a grinding halt in no time.
Surprisingly for a man like him, Thackeray started his career in early fifties as a cartoonist in the Free Press Journal in Mumbai. His cartoons were also published in world famous dailies such as Tokyo's Asahi Shimboon and Sunday edition of The New York Times.
In 1960, he and his brother Shrikant launched a cartoon weekly Marmik. He used the journal to mobilize public support. One such campaign was against the growing influence of non-Marathi-people in Mumbai and called for the rights of 'Sons of the Soil'. The campaign gave birth to the Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966.
Soon, the Sena became his prime occupation. The Sena, with its unconventional, sometimes illegal and violent methods grew into a dominant force in Mumbai. The credit for taking the party to the far corners of the state goes to Thackeray's one time key lieutenant Chhagan Bhujbal, till recently Maharashtra Deputy CM and his bete-noire.
Bhujbal split from Thackeray in 1991 over differences on the Mandal Commission report and Thackeray's preference for Manohar Joshi as the leader of the opposition when the Sena-BJP won 85 of the 288 seats in 1990 polls.
On 23rd January 1989 Thackeray started the party's mouthpiece Samna, a Marathi morning daily. The Sena also opened its employment cell called Shiv Udyog Sena, its labour union named the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena and student's front called Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena.
The Sena also consolidated its hold over the other side of Mumbai. Critics say that the Sena controls a majority of the prostitution rackets in the city, it has connections with the underworld and runs the largest cable operators service.
However, the upward trend of Bal Thackeray and with him the Sena continued. In 1995 the Sena formed a coalition government with old ally the BJP.
Thackeray attracted media flak on numerous occasions. He appreciated the Babri Masjid demolition. His fiery speeches played a crucial role in inciting communal violence in Mumbai. Even the Srikrishna Commission report highlighted the role of his Shiv Sainiks in the riots. He was arrested in July 2000 for the offence but it proved to be fruitless, as the court ruled it as "time-barred" and he was released.
Thackeray was also disenfranchised and given a six-year ban on contesting elections for misusing religion during an election campaign in 1987. This was the first punishment of its kind ever imposed on any public figure of India in the post-independence decades.
Although Thackeray praised the Babri demolition, yet he proposed to turn it into a national monument to resolve the dispute. He said, "Build a Mandir, Masjid and a martyr's plot -- not for India or Rajiv, ... but for Mangal Pandey who fired the first shot for freedom against the British."
Another sign of some good work was visible in 1984. In the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination and the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other north Indian cities, nothing happened to the Sikhs in Mumbai.
Thackeray remains as busy as ever, though now his son Uddhav and nephew Raj are taking over from him and running the day-to-day affairs of the Sena.