Editor's Pick

The Times of India Group
31 May, 2023

ON 19 JUNE 1966, Bal Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena. Thackeray—seen here being released, along with his aide Manohar Joshi, after spending a hundred days in Bombay’s Arthur Road Jail in 1969—was a cartoonist for the Free Press Journal whose work also appeared in international publications, including the New York Times. In 1960, he and his brother Shrikant started the Marathi satirical weekly Marmik, in which he inveighed against migrants in Bombay and castigated the Congress government in the state for not doing enough for the Marathi-speaking population.

With Maharashtrians facing retrenchment in Bombay’s textile mills and competition for clerical jobs, and the communist-led Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti having dissolved after fulfilling its goal of creating a Marathi-speaking state, Thackeray grew immensely popular. His rallies began attracting hundreds of thousands of people—more than the SMS had managed at its peak—and Marmik developed a circulation of around sixty thousand by 1967.

The first target of the newly formed Sena were south Indian migrants, whom Thackeray accused of monopolising white-collar jobs. Besides inciting violence against south Indians, the Sena demanded that eighty percent of all jobs be reserved for Maharashtrians. However, instead of criticising the largely non-Maharashtrian industrialists of Bombay, as the SMS had done, Thackeray directed his ire at the communists, whom he accused of being stooges of China and the Soviet Union. Shiv Sena cadre often helped break strikes and set up parallel networks of patronage in working-class neighbourhoods. Already reeling under factionalism, a declining industry and legal restrictions on industrial action, the trade union movement was unable to resist the rise of the Sena, which won 42 out of 140 seats in the 1968 municipal election in Bombay. Thackeray was also a virulent Islamophobe, and the Sena was complicit in carrying out communal violence on a number of occasions—most notably during and after the Babri Masjid demolition.