India’s commercial capital came to a grinding halt yesterday as nearly one million people gathered for the funeral of one of India’s most controversial politicians, Bal Thackeray.
Following the death of the right-wing Hindu politician from a heart attack aged 86 on Saturday morning, this city of 20 million people took on an eerie calm for the remainder of the weekend as taxis and private vehicles largely stayed off the roads.
All markets, from the swankiest malls to Mumbai’s tiny tea stalls and kiosks, remained closed in respect to the Maharashtra-born politician.
“Even the routine milk supply to millions of homes in our city and adjoining suburbs were given a miss,” Satinder Kumar, a Mumbai resident, said yesterday.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the streets leading to Shivaji Park in the city where the body of Thackeray was cremated.
The slogan "Balasaheb amar rahe", or long live Balasaheb, rang out in the city as an emotional Uddhav, his youngest son, lit the pyre.
India’s press noted that Thackeray was among a select club of Indians who had managed to attract around one million people at their funerals, an illustrious list which includes former leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
In his condolence message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that Thackeray “always strived to include a sense of pride in his people.”
He was born on January 23, 1926 and started his career as a cartoonist in the 1950s which were published in India as well as in The New York Times.
Thackeray began his political journey on a platform seeking persecution of South Indian settlers in Mumbai and later formed his own party Shiv Sena (Army of Maratha historical figure Shivaji) in 1966.
By the early 1990s, Thackeray was immensely powerful and regularly caused polarization, controversy and no little violence.
In 1998, his foot soldiers ransacked theatres screening the film Fire, a story based on a lesbian relationship.
Thackeray also played a central role in the emancipation of 500,000 slum dwellers in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum in Mumbai.
In 2002, he called on Hindus to form suicide squads in response to extremist Islamist terrorist attacks including suicide bombings.
In the West, his most controversial moment came when he told the now-defunct Asiaweek that he admired Adolf Hitler.
“I do not say that I agree with all the methods he employed, but he was a wonderful organizer and orator, and I feel that he and I have several things in common,” he was quoted as saying. “What India really needs is a dictator who will rule benevolently.”