Why is Shivsena so popular in Maharashtra

Hundreds of thousands of Indians mourn the loss of Hindu nationalist Thackeray

After the death of the Hindu nationalist Bal Thackeray, hundreds of thousands of Indians paid their last respects to the charismatic and controversial politician on Sunday. Party founder Shiv Sena died of cardiac and pulmonary arrest in his home on Saturday after a long illness.

Thackeray “took his last breath”, announced his doctor Jalil Parkar on Saturday in front of a large crowd that had gathered in front of the politician's house in Mumbai. Attempts to resuscitate Thackeray after cardiac arrest have failed. The politician had previously had to be artificially ventilated due to a deterioration in his health.

A state of emergency prevailed in Mumbai on Sunday when the body of the folk hero, who had died at the age of 86 the day before, was laid out and driven through the streets. The mass of mourners largely brought public life in the financial metropolis to a standstill. Shops remained closed and taxis did not go.

Huge police force

Fear of rioting by violent Shiv Sena supporters, around 50,000 police officers were deployed in the capital of the state of Maharashtra. According to the IANS news agency, 20,000 police officers alone secured the route of the funeral procession.

A truck decorated with flowers brought the dead man from his home to the cremation area. Thackeray's body was covered with an Indian flag. While still on the stretcher, the politician wore sunglasses that were typical for him during his lifetime.

Admired and feared

Thackeray, who once described himself as an admirer of Hitler, founded the right-wing Hindu party Shiv Sena in 1966 and strongly polarized it in Indian society. His party became known through bloody attacks in a campaign it launched to protect the Marathi-speaking residents of Mumbai from the influence of immigrant workers.

Thackeray called his followers, who mainly come from the working class, "Hindu warriors". He was repeatedly accused of provoking ethnic unrest in India.

He was charged but never convicted of the deaths of more than a thousand people killed in violence against Muslims in the 1990s. His party also pushed through the renaming of Bombay to Mumbai to distance itself from India's colonial heritage.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised Thackeray in a Twitter message on Saturday as a “great communicator” who was “unique”. The Hindu politician spoke "the language of the masses" and "gave them hope," said columnist Shobhaa De on CNN-IBN. Because of his fearlessness and uncompromising attitude, he was nicknamed "The Tiger".