Mumbai on high alert after death of divisive politician
MUMBAI was on high alert after the death on Saturday of the controversial and divisive politician Bal Thackeray. The founder of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena Party died of a heart attack after several days in intensive care, aged 86.
Some 48,000 police were put on high alert and railway security tightened on fears of violence, amid reports that taxi and rickshaw drivers were refusing to travel near Shiv Sena strongholds, inconveniencing travellers trying to get to Mumbai Airport.
Police warned citizens to stay indoors except in emergencies.
Among Thackeray's more controversial beliefs were his admiration for Adolf Hitler's leadership skills and his opposition to Valentine's Day, which he viewed as a celebration of wantonness and anti-Indian values.
Thackeray started his career as a cartoonist before founding Shiv Sena in 1966.
His agenda often translated into extreme pro-Hindu, anti-migrant policies that led Shiv Sena over the years to mount numerous campaigns against Muslims and those flocking to Mumbai from other parts of India in search of jobs and a better life. Shiv Sena repeatedly threatened to shut down Bollywood productions if they didn't hire more locals.
Analysts said his attacks on ''outsiders'' and minorities had a certain resonance among urban middle-class Mumbai voters even as he imprinted a negative legacy on one of the world's great cities. ''He was a bundle of extreme, even brazen contradictions,'' said Dileep Padgaonkar, a consulting editor with the Times of India. ''He destroyed the cosmopolitan ethos of Mumbai.''
While some residents bridled at Thackeray's extreme positions, most shied away from confronting him given his political clout and ability to marshal party mobs on short notice for rabble-rousing missions. The Washington Post once described him as ''the man who rules Bombay the way Al Capone ruled Chicago - through fear and intimidation''.
As word of his death spread on Saturday, tributes poured in from politicians, film stars and celebrities, while analysts on every TV network parsed his often-divisive impact on recent Indian history.
The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, cancelled his dinner on Saturday, crediting Thackeray in a Twitter message for building Shiv Sena ''into a formidable force in the state politics with his strong leadership''. Members of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, aligned with Shiv Sena, called him a ''son of the soil'' and ''uncompromising in patriotism''.
After Hindu-Muslim riots in late 1993 in which an estimated 900 people were killed, Thackeray openly called for attacks on Muslims. He was later quoted as saying Muslims are ''spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer''.
LOS ANGELES TIMES