Yesterday afternoon at 3:30 pm, Shiva Sena supremo Bal Thackeray passed away due to cardiac arrest. The news of his death however began circulating a few days back, when there was a noticeable police presence outside his house, and politicians, industrialists and movie stars began stopping over to pay their last respects. Meetings were being cancelled, and Mumbai had been cautious over the past few days as his health deteriorated.
Born in 1926, he started his life working as a cartoonist, and in 1966 formed the Shiv Sena, with an agenda that put Marathis first. The objective was to see that natives were due given job preference over the immigrants that were now moving to the state in large numbers.
It is rumored that Bal Thackeray passed away a few days back, but to limit the effect on the population, the party decided to wait until Saturday to announce the news. Most people who had the day working would have left their offices, and considering at least a Mumbai wide bandh was eminent this might seem like a good decision on their part.
Within two hours of his death being announced on news channels, shops and restaurants across the state had begun closing. There were reports of some party workers threatening establishments into shutting down, but most closed voluntarily fearing riots or unpleasant incidents. Concerts and parties were cancelled for the weekend and most people decided to stay at home as is best advised during these situations.
I am down in Nasik for Diwali, and even here shops were beginning to shut by 6:00 pm and this included the malls and fast food chains such as Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Even the small tapirs or stalls were closed and vegetable vendors were heading home. We had plans for dinner and a movie, but those were obviously cancelled. And trying to find some street food meant driving around the near deserted city to find a half opened Goli outlet.
The President cancelled his tour of the state following news of his deteriorating health, and leaders of the oppositions last night cancelled their dinner with the Prime Minister.
I might not necessarily have agreed with his policies of Maharashtra only for Marathis and his strong stance against Muslims and Pakistanis, but there was no denying that he helped build the infrastructure of the state.
There are only a handful of people in Indian politics who command the respect and following that Bal Thackeray did, and his will be big shoes to fill.