Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray will make his final journey today as thousands gather to pay tribute to the architect of the sons-of-the-soil ideology in Mumbai. Thackeray died after nearly four months of illness at 'Matoshree' yesterday
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, the fiery torchbearer of Hindutva politics, the architect of the sons-of-the-soil ideology in Mumbai and the man who ruled the city for more than four decades, passed away after nearly four months of illness at his Matoshree residence in Bandra at 3.30 pm on Saturday following a cardiac arrest. He was 86.
His general physician, Dr Jalil Parkar, who has been treating him since 2009, announced his passing this evening outside his home, where thousands of Sainiks had been keeping vigil following news of his ill-health for the past 72 hours.
"With great grief and sadness, we wish to inform you that Balasaheb Thackeray breathed his last at 3.30 pm following cardio-respiratory arrest. We could not revive him," Parkar announced at around 4.45 pm.
Thackeray's son, Uddhav, was with him at the end. He appealed to Sainiks to maintain peace, and the city which only Bal Thackeray could bring to a halt shut within an hour of his demise, with shops and commercial establishments downing shutters and roads wearing a deserted look. Outside Matoshree, emotional Sainiks shouted slogans, while some others burst into tears.
Thackeray's body will be kept at the Shivaji Park maidan from 10 am Sunday for people to pay their last respects. The last rites will be performed in the evening.
Thackeray had not been keeping well since July 2012, when he was admitted to Lilavati Hospital for treatment of ailments of the lungs and pancreas. His health deteriorated on November 10, and he remained in a critical condition for the past one week, during which he had multiple-organ failure, including renal failure.
As Thackeray's party revolved around his personality, Sena leaders spoke of the huge loss they had suffered and the vacuum that had been created by their leader's death. But one of his oldest colleagues, former CM Manohar Joshi, told HT, "Thackeray's death has certainly created a void, but this is not the end. He had foresight and vision to prepare his son Uddhav well, and the Sena legacy will be taken forward."
No one from the Thackeray family had addressed the media or Sainiks gathered outside Matoshree till late Saturday night. However, sources said the entire family -- Uddhav, nephew Raj, daughter-in-law Smita and their families and Thackeray's grandchildren - had gathered at the residence.
A frail-looking Thackeray had himself spoken of hanging up his boots during his last, video-recorded address played out at the Sena's Dussehra rally on October 24. In his last, emotional message, he had called for reconciliation between Uddhav and Raj and appealed to his followers to support his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya just the way they had supported him.
Thackeray, who started out as a cartoonist with The Free Press Journal in the late 1940s, formed the Shiv Sena, a militant political outfit, in 1966, six years after he had launched his own cartoon weekly, Marmik, through which he highlighted "injustices done to sons of the soil" in Mumbai.
His party won considerable flak for its violent agitations and was accused of playing parochial politics. Yet, it went from success to success, winning power in the Mumbai civic body in 1973 and spreading to other cities in Maharashtra in the 1980s and 90s in its new avatar as champion of Hindutva.
Thackeray effectively exploited public anger against the Congress government in the state after the Mumbai riots and the 1993 bomb blasts and, pressing charges of corruption that stuck, dislodged the Congress regime to capture power in 1995 in alliance with the BJP.
However, the Sena lost power in 1999 and has since failed to win it back. In the past few years, Thackeray's party suffered serious setbacks as his nephew Raj split the Sena to form his own Maharashtra Navnirma Sena, which took away a large chunk of the Sena's Marathi votebank.