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Shiv Sena Founder Bal Thackeray, Who Ruled Mumbai, Dies at 86

Indian Politician Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray
Bal Thackeray, Indian politician Shiv Sena chief. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Bal Thackeray , a Hindu-nationalist politician and founder of the Shiv Sena party that campaigned against migrant workers and western cultural imports in Mumbai and the Indian state of Maharashtra, died yesterday. He was 86.

A former newspaper cartoonist, Thackeray founded Shiv Sena in 1966, according to the group’s website. The party, which has controlled Mumbai’s city government in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party for most of the last two decades, evolved from Thackeray’s ideology that Maharashtra belonged to the local Marathi Hindu community, and argued that their interests must take precedence over others.

His death was confirmed by a party spokesman.

Shops near Thackeray’s home as well as other parts of Mumbai were closed yesterday. Supporters carrying Shiv Sena’s banner were seen asking outlets to close in Santacruz, Khar and, Bandra areas. A concert by Swedish House Mafia at Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai was canceled at the request of officials, organizers said in an announcement on their Facebook page.

The National Stock Exchange, the nation’s largest bourse, plans to open as scheduled on Nov. 19, spokeswoman Divya Malik Lahiri said.

Thackeray was briefly held by police in 2000 on charges of inciting hatred against Mumbai’s minority Muslim community during religious riots in 1992 and 1993. A local court dismissed the case, invoking the statute of limitations, saying that the alleged crime, which took place over seven years earlier, was too old to be proceeded with.

Migrants Targeted

Thackeray, known for his aggressive writing in the party mouthpiece Saamna, first targeted migrants from south India. Similar tactics were adopted by his nephew, Raj Thackeray, against workers from poorer north Indian states after he split with his uncle to form his own political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, in 2006.

Laborers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were attacked by Raj Thackeray’s party in Mumbai and other districts of Maharashtra from February 2008, leading to his arrest and then bail on charges of inciting violence. Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra.

“Thackeray played the ‘son of the soil’ card successfully to arouse the feelings of the Marathi community in Maharashtra,” said Satish Misra, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi who has been following Indian politics for three decades. “He was the uniting factor for the Shiv Sena, and in his absence, the party’s movement will suffer a serious blow.”

Valentine’s Day

In February 2010, police in Mumbai arrested 1,000 Shiv Sena members after they smashed up cinemas to prevent the screening of ‘My Name is Khan,’ a film that featured Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars. Khan was targeted after he publicly regretted the absence of players from Islamic Pakistan in the world’s richest cricket competition.

The party also has in the past violently opposed the celebration of Valentine’s Day, saying it isn’t part of traditional Indian culture.

Shiv Sena is named after a 17th-century local hero called Shivaji who formed a Hindu kingdom and fought off attacks by Muslim rulers.

Bal Thackeray is survived by son Uddhav, who now heads the Shiv Sena. The party is a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, and the main opposition in Congress-ruled Maharashtra state.

Cricket Tour

Hindu nationalists allied to the Shiv Sena dug up the pitch at New Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla cricket stadium in 1999 and threatened to sabotage the opening Test match between India and Pakistan in an attempt to have the latter’s first India tour since March 1987 canceled.

Thackeray’s death comes as Pakistan’s cricket team is scheduled to begin a tour of India in December, its first visit since 2007. India broke cricketing ties with Pakistan after terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008 by Pakistani gunmen, which left 166 people dead.

Ram Gopal Varma, a Bollywood film director, in 2005 released a movie titled ‘Sarkar,’ or The Overlord, whose lead character Subhash Nagre, played by veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan, was considered to have been loosely based on Bal Thackeray.

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