Bal Thackeray started his career as a cartoonist in the Free Press Journal in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in the 1950s, and was a contemporary of R. K. Laxman during his early years. His cartoons were also published in the Sunday edition of The Times of India. In 1960, he launched a cartoon weekly Marmik with his brother. He used it to campaign against the growing influence of non-Marathi people in Bombay.
He formed the Shiv Sena on June 19th, 1966 with the intent of fighting for the rights of the natives of the state of Maharashtra (called Maharashtrians). The early objective of the Shiv Sena was to ensure job security for Maharashtrians against immigrants from Southern India. Later, it dumped this stance and became more focussed on Hindutva and nationalism.
Politically, the Shiv Sena was anti-Communist, and wrested control of major trade unions in Mumbai from the Communist Party of India. It later allied itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP-Shiv Sena combine won the 1995 Maharashtra State Assembly elections and came to power. During the tenure of the government from 1995 to 1999, Bal Thackeray was nicknamed "remote control" since he played a major role in government policies and decisions from behind-the-scenes.
Thackeray has claimed that the Shiv Sena has helped the Marathi manoos (the Marathi commoner) in Mumbai, especially in the public sector. Opposition leftist parties allege that the Shiv Sena has done little to solve the problem of unemployment facing a large proportion of Maharashtrian youth during its tenure, in contradiction to its ideological foundation of 'sons of the soil.' In addition, Thackeray played a central role in the emancipation of 500,000 slum dwellers in the Dharavi area of Mumbai, the largest slum in Asia. However, the state's policy of giving free houses to slum dwellers has been subject to controversy by the opposing leftist parties ever since it was introduced by the Shiv Sena-BJP government a decade ago.
Thackeray has also led the Shiv Sena to an active role in trying to improve infrastructure in Maharashtra, particularly in the state capital Mumbai, which also serves as the financial capital of the country.
In addition to improvements in transportation infrastructure, Thackeray has supported initiatives against proprietary technologies such as the "Conditional Access System" for television networks, which would have led to cable companies charging more for channels. He has also questioned the government’s procedure of divesting equity in oil refining and marketing majors, effectively "selling" profitable oil companies out.
In 2002, Thackeray issued a call to form Hindu suicide squads to counter alleged Muslim violence:
If such suicide squads are formed only then can we take on perpetrators of mindless violence.
In reaction to Thackeray’s call, Maharashtra government registered a case against him for inciting enmity between different groups.
Asia Times further reported on Thackeray’s rhetoric:
"to take the Muslims head on". "Trouble-making Muslims should be wiped out from the country ... kick out the four crore [40 million] Bangladeshi Muslims and then the country will be secure," the Shiv Sena leader said. Urging Hindus to start calling India "Hindu rashtra" (Hindu nation), he maintained that only "our religion [Hinduism] is to be honored here" and then "we will look after other religions".
At least two organizations founded and managed by the retired Indian Army officers namely Lt Col (retired) Jayant Rao Chitale and Lt Ge. P.N. Hoon (former commander-in-chief of the Western Command), answered Bal Thackeray’s call to set up the suicide squads in India. Lt Gen. Hoon claimed, Thackeray instructed him to set up the training camps.
Thackeray continues to publish inflammatory editorials in his party's newsletter, Samna (Confrontation).
He was quoted by Asiaweek as saying:
I am a great admirer of Hitler, and I am not ashamed to say so! I do not say that I agree with all the methods he employed, but he was a wonderful organizer and orator, and I feel that he and I have several things in common ... What India really needs is a dictator who will rule benevolently, but with an iron hand."In an interview with the Indian Express that was printed on January 29, 2007, Thackeray remarked,
Hitler did very cruel and ugly things. But he was an artist, I love him (for that). He had the power to carry the whole nation, the mob with him. You have to think what magic he had. He was a miracle ... The killing of Jews was wrong. But the good part about Hitler was that he was an artist. He was a daredevil. He had good qualities and bad. I may also have good qualities and bad ones.
His opponents have used these remarks against him and accused him of a fascist ideology. Thackeray's supporters, such as columnist Varsha Bhosle, have defended Thackeray's position as necessary in what they claim is an atmosphere of religious extremism against Hindus. In defense of a statement by Thackeray that "If the Muslims of India behave as the Jews in Germany did, they will deserve the same treatment," Bhosle writes:
Germany's Jews ...? What else is required for Hindus to shake off the stupor and consider protecting our civilisation and culture? If telling it like it is makes one a Nazi, I say: Fine, better that than the spineless, deaf, dumb, numb and blind state exalted as Nehruvian Secularism. I wouldn't even spit on it.
He is on record as having told the Navakal: "Yes, I am a dictator. It is a Hitler that is needed in India today." He was once asked in a television programme whether he wanted to be the Hitler of Bombay. "Do not underestimate me," he is reported to have retorted. "I am (the Hitler) of the whole of Maharashtra and want to be of whole of India." The Hitler question was put to him in September 1996 by Outlook magazine as well during an interview. "Once you’d expressed admiration for certain facets of Hitler." "Comparison was inevitable," the interviewer prompted. Thackaray said: "I have not sent anybody to the gas chamber. If I’d been like that, you wouldn't have dared to come and interview me.
In the 1980s he had stated that:
"They [Muslims] were spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer. The ... country should be saved from the Muslims and the police should support them [Hindu Maha Sangh] in their struggle just like the police in Punjab were sympathetic to the Khalistanis.Bal Thackeray criticized and challenged Indian Muslims through his party newspaper, Sāmna, around the time the 16th century Babri Masjid was demolished by members of the Shiv Sena and the BJP in the northern town of Ayodhya, on December 6, 1992. Hindus believe that the Babri Mosque was built on the demolished ruins of a Hindu temple in the 16th century, and consider it to be the Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace of the Hindu God Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, one of the Trimurti of the Hindu Pantheon).
The Justice Srikrishna Commission of Enquiry, which investigated the ensuing communal riots in Mumbai, indicted Thackeray for sparking anti-Muslim violence, which led to more than 1,000 deaths in several ensuing riots, many by having kerosene poured on their bodies while alive and then being burned to death. The death toll during the actual act of the demolition of the Mosque was zero. The Srikrishna Commission found that Thackeray was personally responsible, not only for inciting the mobs through his incendiary speeches, but also directly coordinating the movement of the rioters. At the time, Thackeray made allegations that the Commission was "biased" and "anti-Hindu". His views were not supported outside of the Shiv Sena party.
In a deposition before the Srikrishna Commission a witness alleged Thackeray coordinated much of the January 1993 Mumbai carnage. Yuvraj Mohite claimed, "Balasaheb was sitting and he was getting calls from various places. He would ask what was happening at that particular place (from where he got the call) and then he would say, 'Kill them. Send them to Allah.'" Mohite additionally told the commission that "Thackeray –
Later, in February 1993 Thackeray said, "I am proud of what my boys have done. We had to retaliate and we did. If it was not for us, no one would have controlled the Muslims.
"We must look after the Muslims and treat them as part of us."
He has since made more inflammatory statements regarding Muslims, and reiterated his desire for Hindus to unite across linguistic barriers and to see "a Hindustan for Hindus" and to "bring Islam to this country down to its knees".
However, he has also expressed admiration for Muslims in Mumbai in the wake of the July 2006 Bombay train bombings perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists. In response to threats made by the leader of the Samajwadi Party that accusations of terrorism directed at Indian Muslims would bring about communal strife, Thackeray said that the unity of Mumbaikars (residents of Mumbai) in the wake of the terrorist attacks was "a slap to fanatics of Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi" and that Thackeray "salute(s) those Muslims who participated in the two minutes' silence on July 18 to mourn the blast victims".
"Afzal was sentenced to death by the highest court in this country in October and yet the file has been sitting on the President's table for the past four months. I have not said anything wrong about Kalam. We all have supported him to become President. Afzal's clemency letter is still lying with the President. Give me another example where the President has not taken decision on a clemency petition for four months."
His views on Kalam have been heavily criticized by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi as inappropriate and "violative of decorum".
"They [Biharis] are not wanted in southern India, Assam and also Punjab and Chandigarh. The Biharis have antagonised local population wherever they had settled. The UP-Bihari MPs have shown their ingratitude towards Mumbai and Maharashtra with an anti-Marathi tirade in Parliament."He also denounced Bihari MPs, saying they were "spitting in the same plate from which they ate" by criticising Mumbaikars and Maharashtrians. He also wrote, "They are trying to add fuel to the fire that has been extinguished, by saying that Mumbaikars have rotten brains." The outburst was apparently in response to MPs from Bihar who had disrupted the proceedings of the Lok Sabha in protest against the attacks on North Indians.
Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, upset with the remarks, demanded that the Prime Minister and the Centre intervene in the matter immediately. The Saamna editorial prompted at least 16 Lok Sabha MPs from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, belonging to the RJD, JD (U), SP and the Congress, to give notice for breach of privilege proceedings against Bal Thackeray. After the matter was raised in the Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said: "If anybody has made any comment on our members’ functioning in the conduct of business in the House, not only do we treat that with the contempt that it deserves, but also any action that may be necessary will be taken according to procedure and well established norms. Nobody will be spared,"
On March 27, 2008 in protest against Bal Thackeray's editorial, leaders of Shiv Sena in Delhi resigned citing its "outrageous conduct" towards non-Marathis in Maharashtra and announced that they will form a separate party. Addressing a press conference Shiv Sena's North India chief Jai Bhagwan Goyal said the decision to leave the party was taken because of the "partial attitude" of the party high command towards Maharashtrians. "Shiv Sena is no different from Khalistan and Jammu and Kashmir militant groups which are trying to create a rift between people along regional lines. The main aim of these forces is to split our country. Like the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the Shiv Sena too has demeaned North Indians and treated them inhumanely," he said.