Yesterday, Mumbai came to a standstill for the funeral procession and last rites of Balasaheb Thackeray, chief of Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena and one of India’s most divisive politicians.
While the passing of a man is always a time for grief and mourning, few political personalities managed to be as polarising. His legacy, sadly, is that of an exclusionary street politician who stoked ethnic tension and religious violence. For Thackeray, his supporters and followers were “Hindu warriors”, blinded by defamatory and inflammatory rhetoric, his party forging a reputation for intimidation and unrest. Although never charged, his role in anti-Muslim riots, that claimed more than a 1,000 lives in the 1990s, is well documented. While thousands did line Mumbai streets yesterday, the closing of businesses came more from fears of retribution than out of any actual homage to the leader.
Thackeray was a man who dominated politics in Mumbai for decades — always playing to the lowest common denominator in a crude and exclusionary manner. He was steadfast in his support of the local Marathi-speaking “sons of the soil” against interlopers from across India. While Thackeray is a hero to many working-class Hindus, his politics and the hold that his party exerts over India’s financial capital angers many. His was the hand of the tiller of Maharashtra — but it was not a better place because of his politics.