"Balasaheb Thackeray is a great leader. There are many who would say that people are afraid of him. Mumbai doesn't fear him; it loves him".
This is what Bharatiya Janata Party leader Prakash Javadekar has to say about ailing Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
"He has earned that love and affection, because he cares for everybody who comes in touch with him," said Javadekar
In a conversation with rediff.com's Priyanka, the senior BJP leader spoke rather fondly of his long association with Thackeray and emphasised that "magnanimity of heart, love for people, seeking perfection even in the minutest details" are just a few of the truly enduring characteristics of the Shiv Sena leader.
Tell us about your earliest interactions with Bal Thackeray. What were your impressions of him as a person and as a leader?
I started going to his house with (late BJP leader) Pramod Mahajan in 1984. Our first alliance with Shiv Sena materialised during the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, in which two Shiv Sena candidates, including Manohar Joshi, contested elections under the symbol of the BJP.
Even at that time, he was forthright as always. I remember we were talking to him about Gandhian socialism and so on, and he was the person who told us that now is the time for Hindutva to flourish, and that it (Hindutva) will become the main focus of the nation.
This was also the time when the Shiva Sena was shedding its image of being a parochial and an anti-South Indian party. They broke free from that image and merged with the larger political canvas.
He loved Pramod Mahajan.
Now, Pramod Mahajan used to give very fiery speeches, and by the time he completed a half-an-hour speech, we would find him sweating profusely. Balasaheb asked him why he was exhausting himself so much. He (Thackeray) spoke as if he was talking to a family member. Thackeray said to Mahajan that he should not waste his talent in shouting, and should take lessons from him.
In the end, when Pramod was shot On the last day, there were only a handful of people at Pramod's bedside. He sat next to the BJP leader and said, 'Pramod, please come back. Pramod, please come back. We need you.'
Whatever he was saying, it was from his heart.
While preparing for political campaigns, he is a perfectionist, which means the stage will be perfect, the decoration will be perfect, the mike and the speakers would be of the best quality. At any location, whether rural or urban, a Shiv Sena meeting is well organised. He has taught every minute detail to his people.
And he is very open. He talks his heart out to the workers and to everybody who comes to meet him. He meets so many people, from 11 am till 2 in the afternoon, and sometimes in the evening also.
When you go and talk to him, he will give you time, recollect a few things about you and tell you.
Thackeray has fought a battle for the Marathi people, the Maharashtrian people and for an average Mumbaikar in 1992, against (underworld don) Dawood Ibrahim. In the 1995 elections, it didn't matter whether one belonged to south India or north, everybody voted for him. It was gratitude for the role he had performed in the Dawood-sponsored riots of 1992.
After the 1995 election results, he could have become the chief minister; he was the supreme leader. But he refused the post, but not because of rejection from the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He just wanted to work with the people.
He loves workers. He loves people. He doesn't use them. He does his work with his heart in it, and everybody sees him as a father figure. That's why people are coming out on the streets for him.
People speculated that the Shiv Sena is a one-man party and it will die in 10 years, but that didn't happen. In fact, both (Bal Thackeray's son) Uddhav and (Bal Thackeray's nephew) Raj are drawing crowds; it is the sheer legacy of Balasaheb Thackeray.
The BJP and Shiv Sena have come a long way in the state. How has the journey been?
Even during the election campaigns, he was open to new ideas. In the 1989 election campaign, we used audio clippings for our aid. Later on, we used to make video films to convey our message. So I used to make short video films. For instance, we used to create a political drama, a satire to covey our message to the masses.
And in one such video, there was a dance sequence for which I wanted actor Mithun Chakraborty to play a part. I went to Balasaheb.
He asked when the shooting was; it was the very next day. And though I was wondering how Mithun could do it without any time to practice, Balasaheb immediately called him.
The actor came within half-and-hour. Balasaheb introduced us and told him of the film shooting.
Balasaheb loves all forms of art. He has great passion, particularly for artists in the music world, drama, and theatre. He encourages art and he cares for everybody. And that is why he is loved.
At the same time, he is very straightforward. He will openly speak on issues that the regular political parties will not speak out about or are shy about speaking. He has been very vocal about the Maharashtra-Karnataka boundary issue and the Hindutva issue. It was because of his straightforward speech on Hindutva that he was banned from voting for six years. But he never surrendered.
Bal Thackeray has a very prominent place in Maharashtra politics. Your comments?
He started with the movement against unemployment in 1964. He used to publish in his weekly the list of officers in various companies, which were dominated by south Indians and where no Marathi manus was employed. It was the beginning of the Shiv Sena.
They contested the election in Mumbai in 1969-70 and won in a big way. Sudhir Joshi was appointed as the mayor and he brought on board a very fresh team. The new members had never been involved in politics earlier. After that, Balasaheb Thackeray encouraged youngsters to join politics, and a new generation was brought to the forefront.
He always stands by the workers. If somebody is arrested or there is a trial in court, he will never abandon any worker.
But he was very pained with Raj and Uddhav parting ways.
He was, and he still is in pain, after Raj and Uddhav Thackeray parted ways. But once Uddhav took over the reins, he interfered less and allowed him to function.
At heart, he is democratic, though his image is that of a tiger. But he is very softhearted.
He is a fearless tiger. He never feared expressing his views on any occasion. He has the largest support of Other Backward Classes in many regions. He has spoken openly on many issues related to reservation and women's reservation.
He has the strength and the spirit to say things openly.
How does the young generation see him?
If you talk about his views on Marathi manus, I feel more and more people are supporting him now. He has now also become a Hindutva icon. And both Raj and Uddhav are sharing his legacy. People see Balasaheb Thackeray in them. It is crowd drawn by Balasaheb.
He is a fighter, and we wish that he comes back. We hope he recovers soon.