Bal Thackeray, firebrand Indian Hindu nationalist, dies at 86
Bal Keshav Thackeray, one of India’s most polarizing politicians and leader of an influential right-wing Hindu nationalist party that has dominated politics in the country’s richest city for two decades, has died aged 86.
Thackeray died of cardio-respiratory arrest on Saturday at his home, one of his doctors, Jalil Parker, said. He had been ill for some time and was rumored to have died earlier this week.
A religious zealot whose grip over Mumbai often resembled that of a mob boss, Thackeray was president and founder of the hardline Shiv Sena (Shiva’s Army) party, built around his fiery rhetoric on religion, immigration and communalism.
A hero of Mumbai’s Hindu working class, he was heralded as a staunch defender of regional heritage by his supporters and despised as a hot-headed bigot by others. He devoted his public life to championing the rights of Mumbai’s “sons of the soil”.
Thackeray, a former political cartoonist, waged a 50-year campaign against immigrants from outside the state. He accused immigrants of taking jobs away from residents of Mumbai, endearing him to large numbers of young working class men.
“Only Marathis have the first right over Mumbai,” Thackeray wrote in his party’s newspaper last year, referring to natives of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is capital. The party newspaper is called Saamna, which means “confrontation” in the Marathi language.
His rise to power in Mumbai, a city of about 20 million people, underscored the strong pull of religion and regionalism in modern India, a constitutionally secular country prone to clashes over its many faiths and traditions.