Mumbai: In a display of love for the departed Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, an unprecedented sea of humanity descended on the historic Shivaji Park at Dadar in north-central Mumbai on Sunday to bid fond farewell to him.
Given that an overwhelming 1.5 million people, mostly Sena activists, joined Thackeray’s funeral procession taken out from his Bandra residence Matoshri, the final journey was a spectacle that would be remembered by Mumbaikars for a long time to come.
Eighty-six-year-old Thackeray — who died of a cardio-respiratory arrest on Saturday afternoon — was accorded a state funeral on Sunday evening in the presence of a host of prominent personalities from different walks of life and hundreds of thousands of Shiv Sainiks who had packed the Shivaji Park ground.
Thackeray had an emotional attachment with Shivaji Park as it was at this ground that he had addressed his first Dussehra rally on October 30, 1966, four months after he founded the Shiv Sena. He had been addressing Dussehra rallies at this venue every year since then except for two years — once in 2005 when the party cancelled the rally owing to heavy rains and on October 24, 2012 when he could not address it in person as he was indisposed. His video-recorded speech was played at the latest rally.
Thackeray’s sons Uddhav and Jaidev were among the close family members and relatives, including nephew Raj Thackeray, who performed the last rites. Uddhav and Jaidev lit the funeral pyre, covered with saffron cloth, amid slogans like Parat Ya, Parat Ya, Balasaheb Parat Ya (come back, come back, Balasaheb come back) and Amar Rahe, Amar Rahe, Balasaheb Amar Rahe (be immortal Balasaheb).
Prominent among those present on the occasion were Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayan, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, her counterpart in the upper house of Parliament Arun Jaitely, national BJP president Nitin Gadkari, federal ministers Praful Patel, Rajeev Shukla, senior Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi, industrialist Anil Ambani, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan and media baron Subhash Chandra.
Earlier, the cortege carrying the body of late Thackeray, decked with flowers and wrapped in tri-colour, left Matoshri at around 9.15am. As the cortege was about to leave his abode, the late Sena chief’s son and party’s executive president Uddhav broke down. His son Aditya was seen consoling his father.
The funeral procession made its way slowly towards the Sena Bhavan, the party headquarters at Dadar in north-central Mumbai, en route to the Shivaji Park. So huge were the crowds that it took nearly six hours for the cortege — carrying the body of the Sena chief flanked by his close family members, including Uddhav, wife Rashmi, sons Aditya and Tejas — to cover a distance of 6 kilometres — which could have been covered in 20 to 25 minutes on a normal course.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, who looked after the funeral arrangements at Shivaji Park, did not travel with other Thackeray family members on the cortege. Instead, he walked along with party workers from Matoshri up until Mahim causeway. He drove back to his Dadar residence and later joined the funeral proceedings at Shivaji Park.
The funeral procession reached Sena Bhavan at 3.15 pm, six hours after it had left Matoshri. After keeping the body for an hour at the party headquarters, it was taken to Shivaji Park, where the final rites were performed at 6.15pm after Thackeray was accorded state honours.
Thackeray’s was the first funeral ever held at Shivaji Park, a playground which falls in the ‘silent zone’ and where the Bombay High Court had imposed restrictions on holding public rallies.
During the last three years, the high court had given clearance for the Shiv Sena to hold its Dussehra rallies at Shivaji Park on the condition that they abide by the noise pollution restrictions and that they would not cause damage to the cricket pitches on the ground. However, on all three occasions, the Sena had flouted noise restrictions, prompting the police to register cases against Sena office bearers.