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Balasaheb Thackeray: An unending journey to eternity

Last updated on: November 19, 2012 22:07 IST

He challenged the establishment in many unconventional ways. His style was unique.

He was a great orator, prolific writer, stupendous organiser, a fearless leader, an extremely gracious host and always willing to help anyone who reached out to him.

Suresh Prabhu, former Shiv Sena MP, pays tribute.

Mumbai was a different city on Sunday. There were millions of people were on the streets, but they were orderly, disciplined and in mourning.

They were saddened by the passing away of a beloved leader who had dominated their lives for almost half a century.

A few days ago there was a rumour of his passing away. In fact, there have been several such rumours surrounding his health many times in the past, each evoking a huge reaction.

But the last one, only three days before his actual death, seemed to be serious. Matoshree, his home was surrounded by thousands of followers at midnight. They came from nowhere in almost no time and refused to return despite the imploring of the police, but were relieved that their leader was still alive.

From the moment it finally became known that Balasaheb was no more, his followers stayed awake and walked miles to be with his body till the end.

This was one of the biggest funerals we have seen because Balasaheb had an unparalleled following. He no longer lives in his own body, but will surely continue to live in the minds of the ever growing loyal band of followers spread. He will be there forever, till eternity.

Balasaheb's popularity will be a subject of discussion for a long time to come. Why was he so popular? What made him so unique?

A cartoonist with no formal training in arts school, he came from a family which believed in social reform. He started his career at a young age and left his cosy job in a newspaper to start his own magazine devoted to cartoons, a first in Marathi. This magazine called Marmik became a social platform besides a satirical cartoon journal.

Marmik then became a launching pad for the birth of the Shiv Sena, a social organisation for protecting the rights of the sons of soil. Balasaheb was a complete non conformist. All his life he lived a rebel.

He challenged the establishment in many unconventional ways. His style was unique. He was an artist, a great orator, prolific hard-hitting writer, stupendous organiser, a fearless leader, an extremely gracious host and was always willing to help anyone who reached out to him. These were the many facets which made this leader 'Balasaheb'.

The Shiv Sena was only a social, non-political organisation for the first two years of its existence. It became semi political in 1968 when it contested the municipal election. Even then it was not a full political party as it wanted to confine to only civic issues as a natural extension of its social mandate.

Later it contested and won the Vidhan Sabha election with the Bharatiya Janata Party as an ally and also contested the Lok Sabha to be a part of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.

Despite the fact that the Shiv Sena had a major presence in Maharashtra and was championing the cause of the Marathi-speaking locals, it never ever spoke of a secessionist agenda.

It was unique for a regional party to be so nationalist in its outlook. He was committed to keeping India united. On almost all important issues Balasaheb would have clear views which were again very non-conformist, but appealed to a very large section of people. His humour, aggressive style, his ability to hold his audience spellbound by his oratory made him a great leader with huge following.

I was a practicing chartered accountant, the youngest-ever chairman of the largest urban cooperative bank, a social worker with so many NGOs, nationally and globally, but not a politician. Balasaheb invited me to run for a Lok Sabha seat against veteran politician, the highly respected Madhu Dandavate.

I was very hesitant to join politics, but Balasaheb asked me to contest, which I finally did reluctantly. I joined politics and became an elected Lok Sabha MP. A day later, Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked Balasaheb to nominate one representative from the Shiv Sena to be part of his maiden Cabinet. Balasaheb instantly suggested my name.

I became an MP for the first time and the next I knew I was the Cabinet minister for industry. This is the only example in India of its kind.

I was a member of the National Democratic Alliance core committee led by Prime Minister Vajpayee. All important political issues were deliberated here. As the Shiv Sena's sole representative I had to consult Balasaheb on many of them before we could decide on many contentious issues in the NDA.

I was always surprised by his deep thinking, unique way of offering alternate ideas and, of course, to think about issues with a national perspective.

The man is no more. But for his mammoth followers he will be there forever to motivate and inspire them as he did when he was alive. Millions mourned him on his funeral day, they will follow his ideas in the future. His legacy will live for eternity.

Suresh Prabhu, the former MP from Rajapur, Maharashtra, served as a minister in the Vajpayee government.

Suresh Prabhu