News24

Big funeral for India's Hindu leader

2012-11-18 18:35

Mumbai - Hundreds of thousands of grieving supporters thronged the streets of Mumbai on Sunday for the funeral of Bal Thackeray, a Hindu extremist leader linked to waves of mob violence against Muslims and migrant workers in India.

Nearly 20 000 policemen were on hand because of the violent history of the group.

The mourners, however, remained calm and orderly as the body of Thackeray was cremated at Shivaji park where he had made his political debut by addressing his first public rally 46 years ago.

His son and successor, Uddhav Thackeray, lit the funeral pyre amid chants of "Thackeray is immortal" by the supporters, some of whom wept.

Top Indian politicians, industrialists and Bollywood stars including LK Advani, Sharad Pawar, Anil Ambani and Amitabh Bachchan, earlier placed floral wreathes aside Thackeray's body, which was wearing his trademark dark sunglasses.

Thackeray, an 86-year-old powerful, rabble-rousing orator for Shiv Sena, which means Shiva's Army, died on Saturday following a cardio-respiratory arrest.

He had been ill for several weeks.

His body, wrapped in India's national flag, was carried through the city on a trailer-truck.

Policemen carried his body to the cremation site at the end of a daylong funeral procession as the Maharashtra state government, headed by the governing Congress party, announced a state funeral for him.

Life in Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital came to a halt as people voluntarily closed shops and businesses and kept taxis and auto-rickshaws off the roads.

Indian media reports said more than 1.5 million people attended his funeral procession.

Thackeray's Sena is among the most xenophobic of India's Hindu right-wing political parties and held power in Mumbai from 1995 to 2000.