If a person’s popularity is measured by the number of people attending his funeral, then Bal Thackeray’s funeral indicated his popularity. It’s been five years since the former Sena leader passed away but even today he is one of the most admired figures in India. His cortege stretched 2 kms and around 1 million lined the route from his residence in Kalanagar to Shivaji Park. His death marked the end of an era in Maharashtra politics.
Mr Thackeray underwent a coronary bypass surgery in 1990 and an angioplasty in 2009. He was suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and was also diagnosed with pancreatic ailments. In 2012, he was visited Lilavati Hospital after complaints of breathlessness. It was only at the Dasara Melava (the annual Dassera celebration organised by Shiv Sena at Shivaji Park) in October 2012, he acknowledged his ill-health when he skipped the Dasara Melava and instead appeared through a video that aired his speech. In the video, he announced his retirement from the public life and requested his followers to stand by his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya. He spent his last few days in a room at his residence Matoshree which had been recreated like an ICU with all equipment and medical and para-medical staff. He was frequently attended by his family and doctors. After days of uncertainty over his health condition, the Sena chief breathed his last on November 17 at his residence. He was 86.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut announced the news and asked the followers of the party to maintain peace. However, Shiv Sainiks in a disbelief demanded to see Mr Thackeray or hear the news from his son Uddhav. As the news spread, the city wore a deserted look. Shops and cinema houses were shut, roads were emptied out and stone-pelting incidents at some places were reported. Taxis and auto-rickshaws went off the streets. The Railways cancelled megablock on all the three lines and the BEST started its service even in key localities for the day.
Bal Thackeray’s body was draped in the Indian flag wearing his trademark sunglasses. His body was taken to Sena Bhavan, the party’s headquarter in Dadar and was later kept at Shivaji Park for people to pay their last rites. Not just the party followers but also popular personalities from Bollywood, politics and corporate world attended his last rites. The funeral venue was attended by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, BJP veteran LK Advani, BJP President Nitin Gadkari, BJP leader Maneka Gandhi, Eknath Khadse, Union Minister Praful Patel, Arun Jaitely and Chhagan Bhujbal, among others. Amitabh Bachchan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Nana Patekar and industrialist Anil Ambani were also present.