MUMBAI: The mortal remains of Hinduvta mascot, Bal Thackeray were consigned to flames as hundreds of thousands of mourners bid him a tearful farewell at the Shivaji Park, from where he had launched the Shiv Sena, 46 years back.
An emotional Mr Uddhav Thackeray, the youngest son of the 86-year-old Shiv Sena patriarch, lit the funeral pyre a little after 6 pm to loud roars of ‘Balasaheb amar rahe’ (long live Balasaheb).
Mr Raj Thackeray, the estranged nephew of Bal Thackeray and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief, stood next to Mr Uddhav with folded hands near the pyre as they accepted the condolences from political leaders, captains of industry, film personalities, relatives, friends and well-wishers. The firebrand Sena chief, who was critically ill for the past few days, breathed his last on Saturday following a cardiac arrest.
A contingent of Mumbai police gave a 21-gun salute and buglers sounded the last post in the state funeral, a rare honour for someone who had never held any official position.
In a spontaneous outpouring of grief, a sea of humanity, unprecedented in recent memory, descended on the streets leading from ‘Matoshree,’ Thackeray’s Bandra home, along the 10-km stretch to Shivaji Park, to catch the last glimpse of the uncrowned king of Mumbai. The pyre was erected on a platform at the very place from where Thackeray delivered his first speech to his rabble-rousing supporters after the launch of Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966.
As several times in life, the Thackeray phenomenon was in evidence once again in death as he brought Mumbai to a halt with all market places, from the swanky malls to the tiny tea stalls and ‘paan-beedi’ kiosks, closed and all roads leading to ‘Matoshree,’ Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar and Shivaji Park where his last rites were performed.
Those present included long-time political rival and personal friend, Mr Sharad Pawar; BJP chief, Mr Nitin Gadkari; senior party leader, Mr L K Advani; leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj; Opposition leader in Rajya Sabha, Mr Arun Jaitley; Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, his Madhya Pradesh counterpart, Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Union ministers, Mr Praful Patel and Mr Rajiv Shukla.
Superstar Amitabh Bachchan, with whom Thackeray shared a long-standing bond, actors Nana Patekar and Ritiesh Deshmukh, filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Mahesh Manjrekar, industrialists Mr Anil Ambani and Mr Venugopal Dhoot and Zee’s Mr Subhash Chandra reached Shivaji Park hours ahead of the funeral.
Ex-Sena leader, Mr Chhagan Bhujbal, who got Thackeray arrested after becoming the Nationalist Congress Party’s deputy chief minister and home minister in a little-known case after bitter fallout, and Congress MP, Mr Sanjay Nirupam, who also broke away from the saffron party, were among those present.
In a measure of respect and influence Thackeray commanded over generations of Maharashtrians, the government allowed his funeral to take place at Shivaji Park, never a venue for such events, and accorded him a state funeral, the first public funeral after Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s in 1920.
The Maharashtra Governor, Mr K Sankaranarayanan and the Chief Minister, Mr Prithviraj Chavan placed wreaths on the Sena patriarch’s body. A three-tier security comprising the Mumbai police, the Rapid Action Force and party volunteers were deployed to make sure that the funeral procession moved without any untoward incident.
Thackeray’s body atop a flower-bedecked truck was taken to Mahim Causeway, then to Sena Bhavan, the Shiv Sena headquarters in Dadar built by him in 1977, to Meena Tai statue in Dadar and finally to Shivaji Park.
Mumbai Police Commissioner, Mr Satyapal Singh cancelled his daughter’s wedding reception on Sunday night as he was busy with security detailing. "I appeal to people to remain calm and maintain law and order," the Mumbai Police Commissioner said.