Bal Thackeray was born in 1926. His father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray was an Indian social reformer and a leader of Samyukta Maratha Samiti that successfully campaigned for a linguistic state of Maharashtra.
Thackeray’s career started as a cartoonist in the nationalist newspaper Free Press Journal. But Thackeray developed differences of opinions with the Free Press Journal when his cartoons made a mockery of immigration of south Indian people into Bombay. Thackeray along with his friend George Fernandes left the newspaper to start their own newspaper News Day. But the newspaper survived for a few months. Later Balasaheb along with his brother Srikant started his cartoon weekly Marmik. In 1960, the then chief minister of Maharashtra and a strong Congress leader Yashwantrao Chavan inaugurated Marmik. This cartoon weekly dealt on issues of common Marathi men regarding unemployment, influx of migrants into the state, retrenchment of Marathi workers.
Later Balasaheb termed the cartoon weekly as instrumental in the rise of Shiv Sena. During 1960-1966 the weekly protested against influx of south Indian and Gujarati people into the state. The butt of Thackeray’s cartoons ranged from ignorance of Marathi people about their culture, growing poverty in the country and Congress party’s indifference attitude towards it. Before the formation of Shiv Sena the weekly set out many agendas especially against the Gujaratis and South Indians. The noted campaign of “Hatao Lungi, Bajao Pungi”, and derogatory names such as Yanda Gundu or Lungiwaale for south Indians shows the hatred put forward against the non-Marathi people. In 1966, Bal Thackeray took help of every political parties including Congress party’s stalwarts VP Naik and SK Patil to form Shiv Sena. On an interview with India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai (29th NOV, 2019), senior congress leader Jairam Ramesh said, “We were ideological opponents of Shiv Sena but let’s not forget in 1967 it was SK Patil and VP Naik who were responsible in many ways to break the monopoly of the AITUC and the CITU then trade unions of Bombay”.
Political analyst Suhas Palshikar in his article named Economic and Political Weekly confirmed the presence of state congress leader Ramrao Adik at the first Sena rally. Whoever may be behind the creation of Shiv Sena, it is true that hatred towards non-marathis runs deep into the vein of this party. Contrary to what people think today about Shiv Sena as the flag bearer of Hindutva, the party never took a great leap towards uniting the Hindus from all parts of the country.
Let us see a timeline of Shiv Sena since 1966.
1966 – Bal Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena, the name coined by Keshav Thackeray. Especially on 30th October of 1966, Bal Thackeray gave an intimidating speech at his first rally in Shivaji Park and as a result the sena workers pelted stones at the South Indian Udupi restaurants on their way homeward. This hatred towards the South Indians led Vaibhav Purandare write in his book The Sena Story : Shiv Sainiks often “ barged into various offices, delivered physical blows to lungiwallahs and bhaiyas who had robbed their jobs, attacked Udipi hotels….”
1967- The party wins 17 out of 40 seats in the civic polls of Thane. Communal tension arose regarding the claims of both Hindus and Muslims over the Durgadi Fort where Muslims used to pray Namaz. Thackeray announced that Shiv Sainiks would march to the place and raise saffron flag at the place on September 8. Amid bans and tight securities, they managed to gather at the spot to pray.
1968- The party wins 42 seats in total 121 seats in the civic elections.
1969- This year was a dramatic year in the history of Shiv Sena. Belgaum was an area inhabited by Marathi-speaking people but it had been merged with the Karnataka during the bifurcation of undivided Bombay presidency into Karnataka and Mumbai. Bal Thackeray’s fiery speech regarding this border dispute motivated the Shiv Sainiks to stop the vehicle of the then Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai. But the vehicle tried to speed away and in the process many Shiv sainiks were injured. As a reaction to this, the Shiv Sainiks sent the city of Mumbai into rampage as they pelted stones at busses, attacked restaurants. The rampage went on as the police arrested Bal Thackeray and 59 people died in the police firing. Finally Bal Thackeray had to appeal to his followers for calm from the jail in Pune.
1970- Shiv Sena followers stabbed communist leader Krishna Desai who was an MLA that time. Although Bal Thackeray’s link in this matter was not proven, he was found to be saying: “ We must not miss a single opportunity to massacre communists wherever we find them.”( Ref: Nativism in a Metropolis: The Shiv Sena in Bombay by Dipankar Gupta, page 159). Communists at that time blamed the Congress government for supporting this heinous crime saying they wanted to weaken the communists in Mumbai.
The same year Sena workers decided to take the Shivaji Jayanti procession through the tensed area of Muslim localities in Bhiwandi. In the riots, more than 250 people died.
In his book “Jai Maharashtra” Prakash Akolkar wrote that in order to win the municipal polls, Shiv Sena made an alliance with the Muslim League. The first chief minister from Shiv Sena, Manohar Joshi himself confirms in his book “Shiv Sena-Kal-Aaj-Udya” that Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray shared stage with a Muslim League Leader G M Banatwala at Mastan Talao in South Mumbai.
1971- Shiv Sena fielded three candidates in Loksabha in alliance with Congress in the Mumbai and Konkan region. None of the candidates managed to win.
1975- Sena Chief Bal Thackeray supported Emergency terming it as a move in the interest of the country. In addition to Bal Thackeray, many stalwarts like Vinoba Bhave, M G Ramachandran, Kushwant Singh and Mother Teresa supported the suspension of civil liberties in the name of Emergency. Sena Leader Manohar Joshi in the book “Gods of Power: Personality Cult and Indian Democracy” by Kalyani Shankar is found to be saying, “We, the thinkers in the party believe that Balasaheb should not have taken the decision to support the Emergency and that he was wrong in doing so”
1977- Two years later when Emergency was lifted off, Congress as well as shiv Sena failed to win majority of the seats in the Civic poll as Janata Party won more seats.. To make Murli Deora of Congress the Mayor of Mumbai, Bal Thackeray immediately made an alliance with the Congress. He justified his decision by saying that this congress leader was married to a Marathi Woman and so he was the son-in-law of the community.
1980- Congress again received support of Sena in the assembly election because the then Congress Chief Minister Abdul Rehman Antulay enjoyed a personal relationship with Bal Thackeray.
1984- Bal Thackeray convinced Pramod Mahajan to contest under the symbol of BJP but this first alliance was unfruitful.
1985- Shiv Sena won 75 seats in the Civic polls and came to power at the Municipal Corporation in Mumbai.
1989- Sena made an alliance with the BJP both in Loksabha and Assembly Elections. Sena newspaper Saamna was launched in this year.
1990- Winning 52 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly Sena’s Manohar Joshi became the opposition leader.
1991- Sena Chief Bal Thackeray was against the report of the Mandal Commision Report and this created a trouble between Thackeray and his close aid Chhagan Bhujbal. Chhagal Bhujbal resigned from Shiv Sena and joined Congress.
1992- In the wake of the demolition of Babri Masjid, Sena chief hailed the demolition and made anti-muslim remarks. He even claimed that Shiv Sena played a role in the demolition of Babri. As a consequence, the party lost the Municipal Corporation to Congress in the same year.
1995- Shiv Sena comes to power of Maharashtra assembly in alliance with BJP. Sena wins 73 seats making Manohar Joshi the CM of Maharashtra.
1998- Sri Krishna Commission indicates at Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sena’s involvement in Mumbai riots of post-Babri demolition. The riots lasted for 2 months killing 800 people.
1999- Sena-BJP alliance lost power to Congress-NCP in the Assembly election.
2003- Bal Thackeray’s son Uddhav Thackeray was appointed as Executive President of Shiv Sena.
2006- Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj Thackeray resigns from Shiv Sena to form Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
2009- Shiv Sena loses power in Maharashtra Assembly. Activists of Shiv Sena vandalized offices of Hindi and Marathi news channels.
2012- Party manages to hold power in the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. In the same year Bal Thackeray died making Uddhav the party president.
2014- Managed to get only 63 seats in the Assembly Elections after breaking up alliance with BJP. Post-election the party supported the BJP to be a part of the rulling alliance.
2015- Sena banned concert by Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali.
2019- The party broke away from BJP stating that the BJP has not kept promises. Instead, it tied with Indian National Congress and NCP to form the government in Maharashtra.
Shiv Sena and Indian National Congress
In 1966, when Shiv Sena was formed the politics in Maharashtra was such that the Communists were holding the reign in labour unions making an uncomfortable situation for Congress. Indira was slowiy losing her hold on the undivided state of Bombay. Gaining on the sentiment of the Marathi people, Bal Thackeray attracted the unemployed Marathi youth with his fiery speeches. The butt of his criticism was the Gujarati people who held most of the trades, south Indian migrants coming to the state in search of white collar jobs. Bal Thackeray criticized the policies of the Central government by Congress when Nehru was at the helm. But his relation with Mrs. Indira Gandhi was very warm as he was found to be praising her on numerous occasions. The beginning of Shiv Sena started with Congress’ support as as some leaders of the Congress party were present in the first rally of the Shiv Sena. Balasaheb’s support to the Emergency is well known. He always hailed her as the best PM of India. Of late, Maharashtra Congress President Balasaheb Thorat accepted that Bal Thackeray and Indira Gandhi had a good relations and they stood by each other whenever it was needed. In the late 80s, the son of the soil theory of Shiv Sena started to backlash and the party aligned with BJP taking on the nationalistic Hindutva fervor of BJP. Even then also the party supported Congress whenever it needed. Be it supporting the presidential candidate of Pratibha Patil or criticizing the policies by NaMo government, Shiv Sena had always remained by the side of the Congress.
Bal Thackeray and the Underworld
Haji Mastan, Karim Lala Varadarajan Mudaliar ruled the underworld from 60s to 80s. There is a controversy over if Sundar Sekhar was the adopted son of Haji Mastan but his remarks stirred up a political battle between Shiv Sena and Congress. When Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut spoke about Indira Gandhi’s link with Karim Lala, Sundar Sekhar said, “Indira Gandhi used to meet him. Many other leaders also used to visit. Haji Mastan was a businessman. Balasaheb Thackeray too was a good friend of Haji Mastan.” In one such picture that went viral after this Balasaheb is seen to be sitting beside Karim Lala in an event at Patkar Hall.
Shiv Sena and NCP
Bal Thackeray and Sharad Pawar maintained a very good relationship from the time they were not in politics. For Thackeray, he had a relation with his “Sharad Babu” which was beyond politics. Both of them used to visit each other’s house very often. Although there was a political enmity, there were times they united in politics. In 1982 Bal Thackeray united with Sharad Pawar and George Fernandes against the trade unionist leader Datta Samant. It was Pawar who persuaded Shiv Sena to support the presidential candidate of Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee. Sharad Pawar, a congress party member then, was present in the first rally of Bal Thackeray where he gave a fiery speech creating hatred towards the migrant workers flocking to Baombay. Of late, Shiv Sena formed an alliance with NCP and Congress to form the government in Maharashtra Assembly in 2019.
Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray
Uddhav Thackeray is the youngest son of Bal Thackeray and Meena Thackeray. Until 2002 he was not into active politics. In that year he had been given the post of Campaign incharge in the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections. In the very next year he has been appointed as the working president of the party. He took over as the chief editor of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna in 2006 and held the post up to 2019 until he became the chief minister of Maharashtra.
Uddhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray was also an important member of Shiv Sena. Later in 2006 he resigned from the party citing differences with Uddhav and formed his own party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The party won only 1 seat in the 2019 assembly election in Maharashtra.
Finally, it can be said that Shiv Sena was a poltical party that grew on the ideology of the son of the soil aiming against the migrant workers coming to Bombay. It was when the party alligned with BJP, it started picking on the ideology of Hindutva but that too was never consistent over the years as the party maintained alliance with non-hindutva parties like Congress, NCP and Muslim League.