India Insight

Mumbai a ghost town as Thackeray looms large in death

(Tresa Sherin Morera and Henry Foy contributed to this report. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

It didn’t take long. The news of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death came at 4:30 p.m. India time on a Saturday, a working day for many in Mumbai. Thirty minutes later, my neighbourhood was a ghost town.

Shops were shut, and taxis stayed off the road. On any other day, my street would have been teeming with people, buses and vegetable vendors, but on Saturday, it was strangely deserted.

It was the same in the rest of Mumbai. A colleague described it as “something I have never seen before. It’s like a government curfew.”

Here’s a bit of background from our Reuters story on Thackeray, for readers unfamiliar with him:

How to insult people, Indian politician-style

If you were a reporter covering the Shiv Sena in 2006, the place to be was a nondescript restaurant located midway between party offices and those of Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj, who rebelled and formed a new party after a fall-out with his uncle.

At this hole-in-the-wall eatery, party workers from both sides would let it all out — the vitriol would flow freely against Raj, the Thackerays and the Congress party. A lot of these barbs were never repeated outside those four walls, but some of that vitriol certainly seeped into the public speeches of their leaders.Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the state assembly elections at Dokar village in Gujarat October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is certainly taking over from the Thackerays when it comes to handing out insults — he’s been targeting almost every single opponent in his election campaign.

Shiv Sena, secularists and politics of regionalism

India’s ruling Congress party and main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have found themselves on a common platform after Gandhi family scion Rahul Gandhi slammed the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) for their tirade against ‘outsiders’ – mainly north Indians – in Maharashtra.

Earlier, BJP president Nitin Gadkari invoked the constitutional right of every Indian to live anywhere, in a snub to erstwhile political ally Shiv Sena, whose agenda is to promote the interest of Marathis, sometimes with violent effect at the cost of non-Marathis, especially those living in Mumbai.

Waving the politics of regionalism is nothing new for the Sena and its breakaway faction MNS, who derive their political base from the ‘sons of the soil’ ideology.

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