Offices in Mumbai closed down earlier than normal. Many shops in busy areas of the city were shut down. Roads in many parts of the usually bustling financial capital teeming with a sea of humanity were unusually quiet. Movie shootings were stopped. Wondering what brought ‘Maximum City to a halt?

Bal Thackeray, the founder and chief of Shiv Sena, the man who led the fight for equal rights for Marathi manoos in Maharashtra and much more, is fighting for his life. His supporters, party members, businessman & corporates, Bollywood movie stars are among those who have come to ‘Matoshree’, the Thackeray residence to enquire about his condition. There are many thousands who have camped outside the house hoping to hear about him or get a glimpse of their hero. So what makes him such a hero among the large populace of Mumbai?

To understand this, we need to go back in time. Balasaheb started off as a small time cartoonist with an English language daily. But he was soon influenced by his father’s movement for more rights for the Marathi people. He was frustrated seeing Marathi’s not getting their due whether it be jobs or their rights. As legend has it, he didn’t have very good relations with his South Indian boss while working at the English language daily. And so finally he began Marmik, a Marathi weekly for, by and of the Marathi people.

Just like Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the movie Sarkar, Balasaheb had a knack of feeling the pulse of his people. He knew that the people were frustrated. He knew that opportunities for the Marathis were few and far in between. He knew that he had to support the youth of Maharashtra to build his base among the populace. And on this he based his politics of hatred and intolerant identities. The Shiv Sainiks attacked anyone who didn’t speak Marathi. Shiv Sena is also accused of fanning anti Muslim feelings and feeding the 1993 Bombay riots.

If for one section of the population, Balasaheb is a hero, for another section he is a terrorist. If for one section of the population, Balasaheb evokes feelings of local and regional pride, for another section he evokes feelings of divide and rule. Not many people can divide public opinion so radically.

Whatever be the right’s and the wrong’s of the man, Balasaheb has surely got the power to bring even Mumbai to a halt! For most it is the fear that their shops maybe destroyed while for some it is the respect for him. But mind you – This power isn’t bought like many others do!

As someone has said, even death needs his permission..!!

Disclaimer: This post is not a sign of approval of Bal Thackeray or Shiv Sena’s views.