Bal Keshav Thackeray was an Indian politician who founded the Shiv Sena, a right-wing Marathi ethnocentric party active mainly in the western state of Maharashtra. Holding views attacking Muslims and once praising Adolf Hitler, he was known for his inflammatory writings and was seen as a good orator. A controversial leader, he had a large political influence in the state, especially in Mumbai; his party frequently used violent means against its detractors. Thackeray was blamed for inciting violence against Muslims during the 1992–1993 Bombay riots in the Srikrishna Commission Report, an inquiry by the government.

Thackeray was born in Pune on 23 January 1926 to Ramabai and Keshav Sitaram Thackeray (also known as ‘Prabodhankar’). He was the eldest of nine siblings and belonged to the Marathi Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu (CKP) community. Keshav was a progressive social activist and writer who was involved in the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement of the 1950s that argued for the creation of a unified state called Maharashtra for Marathi-speaking areas with Mumbai as its capital. Keshav was said to have supported the use of strategic violence as means to achieve that objective and left the movement because of his stance against communists. Keshav’s political philosophy inspired Thackeray.

Thackeray began his career as a cartoonist in the Free Press Journal in Mumbai. His cartoons were also published in the Sunday edition of The Times of India. In 1960, he launched the cartoon weekly Marmik with his brother Srikant. He used it to campaign against the growing numbers and influence of non-Marathi people in Mumbai, targeting south Indians. After Thackeray’s differences with the Free Press Journal, he and four or five people, including politician George Fernandes, left the paper and started their own daily News Day. The paper survived for one or two months.

Thackeray was married to Meena Thackeray (née Vaidya) and had three sons, Bindumadhav, Jaidev and Uddhav. Meena died in 1995 and Bindumadhav died the next year in a car accident. Raj Thackeray is his brother Srikant’s son. Despite Raj’s breakaway from the main party, Raj continues to maintain that Thackeray was his ideologue and relations between them improved during Thackeray’s final years. Thackeray drew cartoons for Marmik and contributed to Saamna till 2012. He cited the British cartoonist David Low as his inspiration. He was fond of beer and cigars.