The entire Thackeray family, including Uddhav, his wife Rashmi, Raj's wife Sharmila and their children, rode beside Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's body on a truck adorned with fresh orchids, but Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, conspicuously, walked with the procession below, surprising many.
He walked for about an hour till Mahim causeway and then drove across the Bandra-Worli sea link to Shivaji Park, avoiding the Sena headquarters.
There were two reasons for this, according to an MNS functionary. "First, there was a section of Sainiks whose emotions were running high and were blaming him for his uncle and mentor's situation (which they thought was caused by him breaking away from the Sena). They supposedly booed him away on Wednesday when he went to speak to them, after which he decided to avoid direct interactions that could lead to a difficult situation," said the functionary. "Second, he did not want it to seem as if he was gaining political mileage by visiting Sena Bhavan, since this occasion was very private for him."
Raj was first seen at Shivaji Park on Saturday evening, hours after the Sena chief breathed his last, talking to the police and checking on the funeral arrangements and then directly seen on Sunday morning at the Thackeray residence, Matoshree, in Kalanagar.
But all reasoning failed when senior Thackeray's funeral pyre was being lit. Raj broke down and hugged Uddhav, the only time he was seen near his cousin.
"We should not read anything political into this as it was a personal moment for both the brothers," said Sena legislator Ravindra Waikar after the funeral.
Significantly, Shiv Sena and MNS workers worked together to prepare the stage and funeral pyre for Thackeray at Shivaji Park on Saturday evening. Raj Thackeray and Sharmila have been visiting his uncle's home almost every day ever since Thackeray senior's condition turned critical last Wednesday. Raj has always modelled himself on his uncle, with whom he shared a very close bond with till they parted ways politically.