The mortal remains of Bal Thackeray were consigned to flames on Sunday evening with thousands of mourners joining the Shiv Sena founder’s family in bidding a tearful farewell and Mumbai observing a virtual shutdown.
A sea of humanity, unprecedented in recent memory, descended on the streets leading from the Thackerays’ Bandra residence Matoshree to Shivaji Park to catch a last glimpse of the Sena chief. It took the cortege nearly eight hours to cover the 10-km stretch.
Loud roars of “Parat ya parat ya Balasaheb parat ya (Come back, come back, Balasaheb come back)”, “Kon ala re, kon ala Shiv Senecha wagh ala (Who has come, who has come, Shiv Sena’s tiger has come)” and “Balasaheb amar rahe (long live Balasaheb)” rent the air as Uddhav, Thackeray’s youngest son and the Sena’s executive president, lit the pyre.
In attendance were political leaders and celebrities from across the board, from allies to rivals, film stars to captains of the industry. The government had allowed the funeral to take place at Shivaji Park — Mumbai’s first public funeral since Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s in 1920 — and accorded him a state funeral. A contingent of Mumbai Police gave a gun salute and buglers sounded the last post, a rare honour for somebody who never held any official position.
Long-time political rival and personal friend Sharad Pawar was there as were the BJP’s Nitin Gadkari, L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi and Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Union ministers Praful Patel and Rajiv Shukla were also present. Governor K Sankaranarayanan and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan placed wreathes on the Sena patriarch’s body.
Superstar Amitabh Bachchan, with whom Thackeray shared a long-standing bond, actor Nana Patekar, filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Mahesh Manjrekar, industrialists Anil Ambani and Venugopal Dhoot and Zee’s Subhash Chandra reached Shivaji Park hours ahead of the funeral.
Ex-Sena leader Chhagan Bhujbal, who had got Thackeray arrested after becoming the NCP’s deputy chief minister, and Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam, who also broke away from the saffron party, were among those present.
Mumbai itself had turned into virtually a ghost city, with not a taxi or an autorickshaw in sight and markets, restaurants, cinema theatres and muliplexes remaining closed.
As the firebrand leader’s final journey began from Matoshree, Uddhav could not control emotions and broke down atop the flower-bedecked truck carrying among others his wife Rashmi and sons Tejas and Aditya, the ‘Yuva Sena’ chief.
Conspicuous by his absence from the truck carrying a massive poster of Thackeray against the image of the tiger, the Sena’s symbol, was MNS boss Raj Thackeray, who chose to walk some distance with the mourners before leaving to take care of arrangements for the funeral at Shivaji Park.
As the procession inched towards Shiv Sena Bhavan, the party headquarters, tens of thousands of supporters and onlookers lined the streets, balconies and flyovers, with many clambering atop lamp posts and trees to get a glimpse. Many showered the mourners with flower petals.
The cortege made a brief halt at the headquarters, built by Thackeray in 1977, where his body was kept for top party leaders to pay homage. It was out of bounds for the common Sena workers.
The pyre was erected on a platform at the very place from where Thackeray addressed Sena workers during his famous Dussehra rallies and where he delivered his first speech to his rabble-rousing supporters after the launch of the party on June 19, 1966.
The doctors who made a failed attempt to save Thackeray’s life and who looked after him for years were the first to pay floral tributes to him when his body draped in the national flag and sporting a red Tilak and his trademark dark glasses was kept on a stage before the final rites were performed.
Thackeray’s servant Thapa stood along with Uddhav and Raj, Sena patriarch’s estranged son Jaidev and grandsons. Raj, who had walked out of Shiv Sena after Thackeray anointed Uddhav his successor in 2004, broke down when the pyre was lit.
Suffering from respiratory and pancreatic problems, Thackeray passed away on Saturday, losing a four-day battle for life.