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Bal Thackeray: godfather of nativists in India's most cosmopolitan city

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But Thackeray clearly has deep springs of support, too, as the hundreds of thousands who came out to his funeral attested. While many of the city's minorities and more educated found Thackeray's tactics distasteful and oppressive, middle class and poor Marathis – members of the main ethnic group in the surrounding Maharashtra state – see him as a big brother who safeguarded their jobs from the massive influx of migrants from all over India. 

Thackeray's six-decade career began as a cartoonist. Giving voice to nativist concerns in a rapidly expanding city, Thackeray – who said he was an admirer of Hitler and dawned stylish sunglasses – gained a powerful following as he fought for the Hindu and Marathi character of the city and surrounding state. He was pivotal in the push to change the name of the city from Bombay to Mumbai. 

Over these decades, the demographics of Mumbai changed considerably: The population boomed, the economy raced ahead, and the number of people moving to the city in search of jobs and a better life grew exponentially. Despite these developments, the priorities of many Mumbaikars remain unwavering, says Yashwant Deshmukh, an Indian political analyst and elections expert.

“Mumbai is changing, but remains the same. Though people from across India have come to Mumbai in the last few decades the thinking about jobs has not changed. The fundamental politics of the Shiv Sena is giving jobs to local people from the state of Maharashtra. It’s less about religious extremism and more about the local identity.”

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