Signalling the end of an era in Maharashtra politics, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray breathed his last around 3.30 p.m. on Saturday at his residence ‘Matoshree’ after days of uncertainty over his health condition. He was 86.
At 5 p.m., announcing Mr. Thackeray’s demise to the media, his physician Jalil Parkar said though doctors tried their best to revive the Sena chief, their efforts were not successful and he died of a cardiac arrest.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut called on Shiv Sainiks to maintain peace and said Mr. Thackeray’s body would be kept for a final “darshan” at Shivaji Park from 10 a.m. on Sunday. The funeral is expected to be held later in the day. “Balasaheb’s life has been one of strict discipline,” Mr. Raut said, asking party workers to make sure nothing untoward happened.
As the news spread, shops downed shutters and roads emptied out and the city is expected to be totally closed on Sunday. Over 20 lakh people are expected to attend the funeral.
Weeping Sainiks received the news outside Matoshree as the police struggled to pacify the large crowd. The disbelieving crowd demanded to see Mr. Thackeray or hear the news from his son Uddhav.
Seventy-six-year-old Shalini Gurav from Dadar broke down on hearing the news. “I knew him personally and he was a loving person who never kept anything for himself.” Said Raju Ghodke from Nanded: “It’s hard to believe he is no more. We feel orphaned without him.”
Sena leaders had held out a glimmer of hope in the past few days, asking Sainiks to pray for their leader’s health. Many Sainiks hoped for a miracle; Vaibhav Parab was among them. “While he was critical we had full faith he would tide over the worst.”
Mr. Thackeray was on a non-invasive ventilator for a while; his health has been suspect since he visited Lilavati Hospital for a check-up in July after complaints of breathlessness.
He underwent an angioplasty in 2009 and a coronary bypass surgery in 1990. He was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and later in July he was diagnosed with pancreatic ailments. He skipped the annual Dussehra rally in October, and instead a video recording of his speech was aired to a large crowd at Shivaji Park. He publicly acknowledged his ill health and appealed to people to stand by his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya. He spent his last days at home, in a room which functioned like an ICU, attended by his family and teams of doctors.
Meanwhile, many parts of the city wore a deserted look. Shops and cinema halls were shut down. Despite appeals by the party leadership to maintain peace, there were stone-pelting incidents at some places. The worst affected was the public transport system. Over 35,000 taxis went off the streets; BEST curtailed its bus operations in key localities.
The Mumbai Police issued an advisory appealing to people to avoid travelling on Sunday. The Railways have cancelled the megablock scheduled on Sunday on the western, central and harbour lines, in anticipation of the crowds expected at Shivaji Park.