Mumbai halts as Thackeray dies
Mumbai reeled under shock as news of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's death spread on Saturday bringing India's financial capital to a standstill and raising tensions over fears of unrest.
Police advised people to return and stay in their homes even as the Shiv Sena asked the public and its supporters to maintain calm.
Shops downed shutters and roads emptied out, as news of the death spread while many people were stranded on roads across the Maharashtra capital as the taxis and auto rickshaws also went off road.
The city is expected to be totally closed on Sunday when over 20 lakh people are expected to attend the funeral when Thackeray is expected to be cremated at around 3 pm on Sunday.
Thackeray died on Saturday after battling ailments for days, ending an era in Maharashtra and national politics in course of which many opposed to his functioning struggling to come to terms with his brand of firebrand nationalism. He was 86.
Film screenings in city theatres and sports matches were cancelled on Saturday as soon as the news of Sena chief's demise spread.
As the end came at around 3-30 pm and the news was announced in the evening by his doctors, lakhs of his followers, many of whom called him the King of Hindu Hearts, broke down and grieved for the man who founded Shiv Sena in 1966 to enforce the rights of Marathi people in Mumbai and who left an indelible impact on national political architecture with plain speaking and espousal of national pride.
The Sena patriarch died at his residence Matoshree in Bandra. He died after a respiratory arrest, the doctor said, urging reporters to not ask uncomfortable questions to the grieving family and respect privacy.
Shiv Sena working president and Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav Thackeray also appealed to the supporters to maintain calm and peace. He asked the Shiv Sainiks to maintain law-and-order situation in Mumbai as well as across Maharashtra.
Thackeray is survived by his sons Jaidev and Uddhav, who is the executive president of the Shiv Sena. His political legacy is also carried forward by his nephew Raj Thackeray a few years back broke ranks with Shiv Sena and formed a separate party- Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
But the two cousins- Uddhav and Raj- were seen coming closer of late after some bitterness in the past years following the making of MNS.
Born on 1926, Thackeray had began his career as a cartoonist with the English language daily The Free Press Journal in Mumbai.
He later left it in 1960 to form his own political weekly Marmik. His political philosophy was largely shaped by his father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, a leading figure in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement (United Maharashtra movement), which advocated the creation of a separate linguistic state of Maharashtra.
Through Marmik, he campaigned against the growing influence of Gujaratis, Marwaris, and southern Indians in India's financial capital Mumbai.
He founded Shiv Sena in June 1966 as an outcome of a movement in Mumbai demanding preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city.
But over years he became a power centre in Mumbai whom all communities began to fear or respect.
A heavy presence of police and rapid action force were already posted outside Thackeray's house, and other parts of the city fearing law and order problems following his death.
The Centre has provided additional security forces to Maharashtra to assist the local administration in maintaining law and order.
Sena leader Sanjay Raut urged everyone to maintain peace and restraint while welcoming all his followers across Maharashtra and the nation to join the condolence.
On the demise of the Shiv Sena Supremo, in a condolence message to his son Uddhav Thackeray the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said, "I am extremely sad to learn about the passing away of your father, Shri Balasaheb Thackeray."
"Shri Thackeray's passing away is a loss for the people of Maharashtra and India. In his death, the nation has lost a veteran leader who worked to help the common man and whose contributions in the field of media added a different perspective to the political discourse," he said.
"Please accept my heartfelt condolences and convey the same to other members of your family and numerous followers of Shri Balasaheb Thackeray. I pray to the Almighty to give you and your family the strength and courage to bear this irreparable loss," he added.
In his message Vice-president Ansari said Thackeray had made significant contributions to public life in Maharashtra.
"I am grieved to learn of the sad demise of Shri Balasaheb Thackeray. Shri Thackeray has made significant contributions to public life in Maharashtra. Throughout his life he remained committed to well-being of the people of Maharashtra," said Ansari.
Political opposition Congress as well as Shiv Sena's key ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condoled the death of Bal Thackeray on Saturday both recognizing his importance in Indian politics.
"This is a big jolt to Maharashtra and the nation and with his demise an era ended," said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
"He lived like a tiger and consolidated his position in politics. He knew how to swim against the tide. Leaders like him are born rarely. His void cannot be filled. The whole nation is grieving. BJP pays its respect to the late leader," said Hussain.
BJP senior leader Sushma Swaraj tweeted "I am terribly pained to hear that the Lion is dead."
BJP president Nitin Gadkari said Bal Thackeray always spoke his mind and never took recourse to any deceit to express his political views.
In his last respect to the Maharashtra politician, veteran BJP leader LK Advani called his demise the departure of a political giant, saying it had "left a gaping void in the country's politics which would not be easy to fill".
He further said, "Uncompromising in his patriotism, he possessed remarkable qualities of leadership and abundance of attributes of head and heart which made him command great respect among all those who came in his contact...it is rare that I have seen in these 65 years of independent India, a political leader who has left such a deep imprint on the country's events as Bal Thackeray."
Congress also issued a statement soon after the demise of Thackeray was announced.
"He had a big role in Maharashtra politics. We feel sad and we convey our heartfelt sorrow to the family and pray they can overcome the grief, said Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi.
Congress leader from Maharashtra Sanjay Nirupam said he can never forget the political guidance and always loved him for his convictions. "He lived by his convictions," said Nirupam.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his condolence over Thackeray's demise, saying the Shiv Sena chief always strived to inculcate a sense of pride in his people.
"For him the interests of Maharashtra were particularly important and he always strived to inculcate a sense of pride in its people. He founded the Shiv Sena and built the party into a formidable force in the State politics with his strong leadership," he said in a statement.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also expressed her condolences over the death.
Thackeray's demise was also mourned by people from the entertainment and the sports fraternity with luminaries like Dilip Kumar to Lata Mangeshkar to Sachin Tendulkar saying they were saddened by the news.
South Indian superstar Rajinikanth said Thackeray "was a great leader and a father figure to many, including me...this is a great loss to all."
He further said, "My heartfelt condolences to all his family members and followers all over the world. My prayers for his soul to rest in peace at the feet of the lord."
Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar called it a very sad moment, saying Thackeray was like a father figure to her. She said, "Had recently met him on November 4, he was very critical...he was talking to me. He was like a father figure to me."
Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar also said he was saddened to hear about Thackeray's demise, saying the Shiv Sena chief would always be remembered and missed.
He said, "Really sad to hear about Balasaheb's demise. His contribution to Maharashtra was immense. It's a terrible loss and he will always be remembered and missed. Unfortunately I am in Ahmedabad as I would have liked to pay my last respects personally. My condolences to his family. May God rest his soul in peace."
Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan said, "Each day he continued his struggle with a grit that was baffling even for the doctors on hand...And just a couple of hours back, as I stand next to his still, peaceful, saffron draped body, it is difficult to imagine...that he has left us!"