Lakhs of people today came out to catch a last glimpse of Balasaheb Thackeray and pay homage to him as the Shiv Sena patriarch’s funeral procession started from his residence amidst a complete shutdown with markets shut and taxis and autos off the roads.

The body of 86-year-old Sena leader, who breathed his last yesterday, was taken out of his residence ‘Matoshree’ in subruban Bandra this morning in a hearse adorned with flowers.

The last rites will be performed at Shivaji Park where the Sena supremo addressed his party workers for over four decades since 1966.

Lakhs of people including Shiv Sainiks, who have come from across Maharashtra, joined the funeral procession, shouting slogans in memory of the Shiv Sena supremo. The procession will stop at Sena Bhavan, the party headquarters before moving toward Shivaji Park.

People in huge numbers thronged roadsides, flyovers and balconies of their buildings to catch a glimpse of the Sena leader who roused emotions on Marathi pride and catapulted the party to power in Maharashtra in the 1990s.

A bandh-like situation prevailed in many parts of the city, Navi Mumbai and Thane in the wake of Balasaheb’s death.

Markets were shut and taxis and autos off the streets. The authorities have advised Mumbaikars to take to the roads only in the case of an emergency.

Extensive security arrangements have been put in place in the state, particularly in Mumbai, with over 20,000 police personnel deployed in the metropolis to keep a tight vigil.

Security has been beefed up at ‘Matoshree’ and Shivaji Park with vehicular traffic prohibited in and around the area.

Shiv Sainiks have also formed a human chain to enable the procession to pass smoothly.

People, many of whom turned emotional, showered flowers at the cortege as it passed along the funeral route. Many of them even stood on lamp posts.

Hordes of people reached here from neighbouring Thane, Raigad, Pune, Aurangabad and Konkan region, which are the bastions of the saffron party, to join the funeral.

After being taken to Sena Bhavan, the party headquarters in Dadar, the body would later be kept at Shivaji Park for people to pay their last respects.

The cartoonist-turned politician, known for his strong views and speaking his mind, sometimes bordering on the offensive, breathed his last at 3.30 p.m. at his residence yesterday.

“The state government has already announced that Thackeray will be accorded a state funeral,” state Protocol Minister Suresh Shetty said.

The bereaved family is being accompanied by Sena leaders including Manohar Joshi, Diwakar Raote, party spokesperson Sanjay Raut, Neelam Gorhe, Vinayak Raut, Anil Desai, Subhash Desai, senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, among others.

Thackeray is survived by sons Jaidev and Uddhav, who is the Executive President of the party. His nephew Raj had split from the family and found his own Maharashtra Navnirman Sena over six years ago following a succession row.

A rabble rouser, who started out as a cartoonist alongside R.K. Laxman in the Free Press Journal in the 1950s, founded the Shiv Sena in 1966 on the plank of job security for the Marathi ‘manoos’ (sons of the soil).

Later, his politics centred around Hindu identity and anti-Congressism and was also unrestrained in his Muslim bashing.

Known for paralysing Bombay, as Mumbai was called then, at any opportunity, Thackeray initially concentrated on the metropolis but later spread his politics throughout the state and tied up with BJP to remain its longest ally till date, sharing the saffron agenda.

Always the kingmaker, Thackeray was largely instrumental in ending the Congress hegemony in Maharashtra when the two parties stormed to power in 1994 and shared power even at the Centre between 1998 and 2004. He never occupied any office.

President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, BJP leaders L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have condoled Thackeray’s death along with leaders across the political spectrum.

(This article was published on November 18, 2012)
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