He has been so overwhelmed by the image that it's difficult to find the real Bal Thackeray. The man who left his cartoonist's job because he wasn't given a raise went on to form the mother of all parochial parties, the Shiv Sena. And from Marathi manoos, he has extended his grasp to style himself the Hindu Hriday Samrat, often using means dubbed unfair by the "secularists". Of course, some might even call it ethnic cleansing.
Whatever it was, it certainly got him the nation's attention. Before that, of course, was Ayodhya. The sight of Shiv Sainiks swarming over the Babri Masjid filled his heart with pride. So much so that there were soon two MPs from his party gracing the halls of Parliament. A bit out of their depth, but learning. Now there are four and the politically correct term for Sena politics is regional, not parochial. You may detest him, but you cannot ignore him. Wherever anyone is tempted to scoff at regionalism, Bal Thackeray's name rattles to the fore as an example of what can be accomplished by an emotive leader who talks and thinks exactly like the masses he has commandeered. Even before the saffron flag of the Shiv Sena fluttered over the Maharashtra Assemby from 1995, Thackeray had made cosmopolitan Bombay into Marathi Mumbai. Only he could have done that, raising the question of whether only he can make it stay that way.