India says farewell to Bal Thackeray

-File photo

MUMBAI: Huge crowds gathered in Mumbai on Sunday to witness the funeral procession of Bal Thackeray, chief of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party.

Tens of thousands of people lined the route to catch a final glimpse of Thackeray, who made his last journey flanked by family and party members, still wearing his trademark sunglasses and covered in the national flag.

Authorities placed large numbers of extra police on the streets in a bid to avert trouble following the death of the politician, whose party has a reputation for intimidation and violence.

His body was being taken to central Shivaji Park, where the public could pay homage before his last rites and cremation later in the day.

“I will be privileged to pay respects to my god. We have lost our godfather,” Ganesh Sawant, an office assistant in the city, told AFP.

Commercial establishments across Mumbai were expected to remain closed until after Thackeray’s cremation with some owners saying they feared they could be targeted by Shiv Sena supporters if they did not shut.

“He was a consummate communicator whose stature in the politics of Maharashtra was unique,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

Police advised Mumbai residents to travel only in emergencies, as taxis went off the roads and shopkeepers and restaurants shut as news of his death spread through the city.

Thackeray had been in frail health for months.

He appeared to followers by videolink in October asking them to “take care” of his son Uddhav, the executive president of Shiv Sena, whose vote bank has weakened since Thackeray’s nephew Raj set up a rival party.

Source: AFP