Millions farewell divisive Indian politician
In mourning … police officers stand guard as a crowd gathers near the home of the right-wing politician Bal Thackeray. Photo: Reuters
NEW DELHI: The firebrand Hindu nationalist politician Bal Thackeray - founder of the controversial Shiv Sena - has been farewelled peacefully by millions on the streets of Mumbai.
Feared violence in response to his death did not occur.
Thackeray, 86, died of a heart attack after several days in intensive care.
Controversial ... Bal Thackeray, who died on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
His funeral procession on Sunday drew more than two million mourners onto the streets of Mumbai, with a massive security presence - nearly 50,000 police - that almost shut the city down.
Followed by an unending crush of mourners, Thackeray's body was taken from his home in Bandra to his party's headquarters and finally to Shivaji Park, where supporters will be able to pay their respects.
As word of Thackeray's worsening condition spread, India's biggest, busiest metropolis ground nearly to a halt: theatres closed, film crews cancelled shoots and bands called off concerts. Taxis are not running to the airport or to Shiv Sena stronghold suburbs. Police told people not to leave their homes.
Thackeray began his career as a newspaper cartoonist but soon left to form Shiv Sena in 1966, a political group dedicated to protecting the rights and work of ''local'' Marathi-speaking Hindus. He was a powerful and charismatic orator and quickly drew millions to his cause.
While he and his supporters saw Shiv Sena as a vehicle to protect Indians and Indian values, opponents saw it morph into a hardline, and at times militant, organisation - anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and explicitly racist.
Though he never held executive office, Thackeray enjoyed a long career as an influential backroom kingmaker in Mumbai politics. He revelled in the nickname ''remote control'' for his ability to mould government policies from a distance.
His party, in power in 1995, changed his city's name from Bombay to Mumbai, after a Hindu goddess. Shiv Sena argued Bombay was the Anglicised version of the old Portuguese name for the city, Bombaim.
Thackeray's acolytes, known as Shiv Sainiks, were accused of beating up couples seen together on Valentine's Day, a celebration Thackeray opposed. He praised Adolf Hitler as an organiser and an orator, and said he "loved him" for his art.
When Hindu-Muslim riots in 1992 killed 900 people - sparked largely by Hindu extremists demolished a mosque in Ayodhya - Thackeray called openly for attacks on Muslims.
While many in cosmopolitan Mumbai resented his influence, few were willing to challenge him because of the power he held. Film shootings or building developments could be shut down by a single phone call from Thackeray, if he felt, or was told, not enough locals were being employed.
Tributes to Thackeray have come from across India's political spectrum.