An unprecedented multitude of supporters, celebrities, industrialists and common men converged upon the city’s Shivaji Park to bid an emotional adieu to Shiv Sena supremo Bal Keshav Thackeray, who was cremated here on Sunday with full state honours.
The mortal remains of the 86-year-old patriarch — a firebrand mascot of Hindu nationalism and Marathi pride — were consigned to the flames with a 21-gun salute preceding the final stages of his funeral.
The venue, located in the heart of the city, was chosen as it was the place where Mr. Thackeray had launched the Shiv Sena in 1966, thus commencing a stormy 46-year-old journey into politics.
“Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., there were around four to five lakh people at Shivaji Park,” Niket Kaushik, Additional Commissioner of Police, told The Hindu.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Thackeray’s funeral procession, that was scheduled to leave ‘Matoshree’ in suburban Bandra at 7 a.m., was delayed as roads around the Thackeray residence were clogged with lakhs of fervent supporters who blocked the route of the funeral procession.
Mr. Thackeray’s body was finally brought out of his house a little after 9 a.m. in a hearse adorned with flowers. His youngest son, Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, broke down as his father’s body was being put on the truck.
His estranged cousin, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, walked alongside the hearse till Mahim causeway.
Apart from a grief-stricken Uddhav Thackeray, who was compelled to plead to the restive crowds to show restraint, his wife Rashmi and son Aditya Thackeray stood beside Mr. Thackeray’s body on the hearse that also bore Sena-alliance leaders, Ramdas Athawale of the Republican Party of India (A) and senior BJP leader Vinod Tawde.
Cries of ‘Parat ya parat ya Balasaheb parat ya (Balasaheb come back) rent the air as frenzied Sainiks crowded near the cortege, slowing down its movement. The procession reached Shivaji Park at around 4:30 in the evening as a host of dignitaries gathered to pay their last respects to Mr. Thackeray.
A stellar cast of politicians, Bollywood movie stars and industry titans attended the funeral.
Politicians, including the top brass of the Bharatiya Janata Party (a political ally of the Sena in the State) that included leaders like L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Gopinath Munde were present on the occasion.
Among the ruling coalition leaders, Mr. Thackeray’s close friend, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, senior NCP leaders Praful Patel and Chhagan Bhujbal, State Home Minister R.R. Patil were present, along with virtually every top State leader.
Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Nana Patekar and Madhur Bhandarkar were among the prominent Bollywood celebrities present.
The final rites were performed by Mr. Uddhav Thackeray and an emotionally overwhelmed Raj Thackeray.
Shivaji Park resounded with cries of “Balasaheb amar rahe” (long live Balasaheb) as a grim-looking Mr. Uddhav Thackeray lit the pyre.
All through the day, a veritable swarm of Sena supporters from all parts of Maharashtra disregarding personal privation poured onto the streets leading from “Matoshree” — the Thackeray home in suburban Bandra — to Shivaji Park in order to catch final glimpses of Mr. Thackeray’s journey.
Despite no formal call being given, a total shutdown, prompted by fear of violence on the part of Sena cadres, prevailed in many parts of the city and its outer limits including Navi Mumbai and Thane in the wake of Mr. Thackeray’s death.
Markets, that began downing shutters since Saturday evening, were shut to the last shop in Sena strongholds. Trains were the only visible mode of functioning public transport as taxis and auto rickshaws completely stopped plying the roads.
Hoardings hailing the former founder of the Shiv Sena as ‘The Last Hindu’ and a ‘Saffron Storm’ dotted the cityscape throughout the Sena strongholds of Dadar and Bandra.