Mumbai, Nov.18 (ANI): Millions of weeping and distraught supporters of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray joined his funeral procession through the streets of Mumbai on Sunday amidst tight security.
Bal Keshav Thackeray, one of India’s most polarising politicians and leader of an influential right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the Shiv Sena, that has dominated politics in the country’s richest city for two decades, died aged 86 in Mumbai city on Saturday.
Thackeray was one of the most prominent and outspoken figures of India’s Hindu nationalist movement, and rose to prominence with his fiery rhetoric against immigration in India’s richest city.
He was admitted into a central Mumbai hospital in July but was later discharged. He died of cardio-respiratory arrest at his home, the doctor, Jalil Parker, said.
The founder and president of the hardline Shiv Sena party, Thackeray, was as famous for his saffron-coloured robes, white beard and tinted sunglasses as his firebrand rhetoric on social issues such as immigration and communalism.
Thackeray called for the formation of Hindu suicide squads, ordered followers to dig up a cricket pitch to stop the Pakistani team from playing in Mumbai and has told newspapers of his admiration for Adolf Hitler.
His rise to power in Mumbai, a diverse city of around 20 million people, underscores the strong pull of religion in modern India, a constitutionally secular country prone to flashpoints between a slew of beliefs and traditions.
Thackeray’s funeral procession brought Mumbai city to a halt as a sea of crowd, including supporters of Shiv Sena took to the streets, flyovers and even trees to get a final glimpse of their beloved leader.
A former political cartoonist, Thackeray gained notoriety for his acerbic language and the Shiv Sena’s campaign against Mumbai’s immigrant population, whom he accused of taking jobs away from people from the city and surrounding areas.
Banned from voting in local elections for six years in 1999 after breaching rules on using religion in campaigns, Thackeray staunchly opposed the celebration of Valentine’s Day and was a key organiser of Michael Jackson’s only performance in India in 1996.
His Shiv Sena, which has controlled Mumbai’s civic body since 1996, is a key ally of the national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and its enthusiastic and loyal supporters are seen playing a crucial role in the 2014 federal elections.
Thackeray’s death made the front page headlines in the country’s leading English newspapers.
But Thackeray’s death could spark a power struggle in the Shiv Sena, denting its support with its vote base in Maharashtra, for whom Thackeray was the face of the party.
In a video message to party workers last month, a visibly frail and out-of-breath Thackeray said he was exhausted and asked them to “take care” of his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya, seen widely as his successors.
Thackeray’s estranged nephew Raj, whose oratorical skills have drawn comparison with his uncle, broke away from the Shiv Sena in 2006 to form a rival party, and is seen by many to be gaining influence in the state.
Thackeray is survived by three children. (ANI)