Mumbai comes to a standstill during Bal Thackeray's funeral procession(Update-Thackeray)

Last Updated: Sun, Nov 18, 2012 11:00 hrs

India's financial capital Mumbai was at a standstill on Sunday as thousands of weeping and distraught supporters of Shiv Sena party founder Bal Thackeray joined his funeral procession amidst tight security.

The city was choc-a-block with people from all walks of life wanting to pay their last respects to the late leader. While some took to the streets, others gathered on flyovers and even climbed trees to get a final glimpse of Thackeray, who spent most of the last four decades as one of India's most polarised and consummate politicians, championing the cause of national and Maharashtrian identity.

He died at his residence Matoshree here on saturday afternoon at the age of 86.

Apart from his penchant for fiery political rhetoric, was as famous for his saffron-coloured robes, white beard, tinted sunglasses, love for warm beer and the occasional cigar.

Social issues such as immigration and communalism were of particualr interest to him in the context of national well being and welfare.

A former political cartoonist, Thackeray gained notoriety for his acerbic language and the Shiv Sena's campaign against Mumbai's immigrant population, whom he accused of taking jobs away from people from the city and surrounding areas.

In New Delhi, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj revealed that she had an appointment to meet Bal Thackeray today, but was now in state of mourning and shock.

"I have been in mourning since yesterday mainly because today I had an appointment to meet Bal Thackeray, we were supposed to meet at noon and I had booked a morning flight to Mumbai. At that time I could have never imagined that yesterday at 3:30 in the afternoon I would get the news of his demise. This was shocking news for me, the news that pained and shocked me," said Swaraj.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari said: "Late Bal Thackeray was our guide, our inspiration and was the head of our political family of Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena. After his demise both our political parties have been severely dented."

Banned from voting in local elections for six years in 1999 after breaching rules on using religion in campaigns, Thackeray staunchly opposed the celebration of Valentine's Day and was a key organiser of Michael Jackson's only performance in India in 1996.

His Shiv Sena, which has controlled Mumbai's civic body since 1996, is a key ally of the national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and its enthusiastic and loyal supporters are seen playing a crucial role in the 2014 federal elections.

Thackeray's death made the front page headlines in the country's leading English newspapers.

But Thackeray's death could spark a power struggle in the Shiv Sena, denting its support with its vote base in Maharashtra, for whom Thackeray was the face of the party.

In a video message to party workers last month, a visibly frail and out-of-breath Thackeray said he was exhausted and asked them to "take care" of his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya, seen widely as his successors.

Thackeray's estranged nephew Raj, whose oratorical skills have drawn comparison with his uncle, broke away from the Shiv Sena in 2006 to form a rival party, and is seen by many to be gaining influence in the state.

Thackeray is survived by three children. (ANI)

More from Sify: