Thousands throng his residence; Mumbai put on alert
Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray, who could bring Mumbai to a standstill, passed away on Saturday after a prolonged illness. He is survived by two sons, Uddhav, anointed the next party chief and Jaidev.
Talking to media, Thackeray’s personal physician Jalil Parkar said the 86-year-old leader breathed his last at 3:33 pm. “He suffered cardiac arrest and attempts to revive his heart and resuscitate him failed,” he told the media outside Thackeray’s house Matoshree in Bandra (East).
The funeral will take place late on Sunday evening at a crematorium near Shivaji Park, where Thackeray used to hold the famous annual Dassera rally.
However, ill-health had prevented him from attending the spectacle this year. The body will be taken out in procession from his residence at 7 am and kept at Shivaji Park for people to pay their last respects.
For the past one week, Mumbai was agog with rumours about Thackeray’s illness. The city was put on alert in the wake of his deteriorating health and a history of his party members running amok on the city streets.
Leaves for police personnel were cancelled and Rapid Action Force units, with additional personnel from Delhi, have been deployed at strategic locations to avert untoward incidents. The city police control room stated that over 20,000 police personnel have been pressed to duty, apart from traffic police who will guide the funeral procession.
Soon after the news of his demise trickled out around 5 pm, shopkeepers and commercial enterprises across the city downed their shutters. Born on January 23, 1926, in Pune, into the family of progressive socialist Keshav Thackeray aka Prabodhankar, Bal Thackeray started off as cartoonist with “Free Press Journal” in Mumbai. Soon, he launched a weekly magazine called “Marmik,” that was predominantly satirical and full of cartoons. In 1966, he launched the Shiv Sena, a party that espoused the “son-of-the-soil” ideology. Within a span of a few years, the Shiv Sena impressed upon the masses that it was an organisation that never shirked from violence.
In February 1969, his party took up the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute and Bal Thackeray, along with several others, were imprisoned – the only time Thackeray found himself behind bars. A week-long violence left 59 dead, 274 injured, besides 151 policemen. A total of 700 cases of assaults were registered.
In 1975, Thackeray found himself in political wilderness for supporting the Emergency. But he soon bounced back and forged an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The alliance since then never looked back in Mumbai, winning elections including the state assembly polls in 1995. That very year, Thackeray lost his wife, Meena, and the year after, his eldest son Bindumadhav, a filmmaker, died in a car accident. The political maverick, it is said, never recovered from the twin tragedies. In 1999, he was banned from voting or contesting elections, however, the ban was lifted after six years.
Despite being the chief of one of Mumbai’s most powerful political organisations, Bal Thackeray always played the king maker in Maharashtra, as well as the national arena, as Shiv Sena MPs joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance while voting for presidential candidates propped up by the Congress.
In 2006, he received a jolt when his nephew Raj, whom he had personally groomed, left the Shiv Sena to float a party of his own, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. However, Bal Thackeray reaffirmed the people’s faith in his political acumen this year, trouncing almost all political parties in the Mumbai civic elections.
For the past one year, Thackeray was suffering from lung ailment and pancreatic complications.
The mild heart attack suffered by his son Uddhav a couple of months ago further impacted his health. During his video address to the crowd this Dassera, Thackeray had said: “I am tired and cannot walk. Take care of my son and grandson as you have taken care of me for so many years.”