Bloomberg News

Mumbai Remains Tense Over Health of Divisive Political Leader

November 15, 2012

Mumbai Tense as Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray ‘Critical’ at Home

Supporters of ailing Mumbai politician Bal Thackeray chant slogans outside his Mumbai home. Thackeray, 86, is a Hindu-nationalist politician whose party campaigns against migrant workers and western cultural imports in Mumbai and the Indian state of Maharashtra. Photographer: Pratish Narayanan/Bloomberg

The family of ailing Mumbai politician Bal Thackeray sought to calm supporters thronged outside his home, as parts of the city remained tense amid concerns of violence in the wake of his deteriorating health.

India’s Home Ministry provided additional security forces after a request by the state of Maharashtra to assist the local administration, according to the Press Trust of India.

Police commandos stood guard at Thackeray’s home in the Bandra East area of Mumbai, a neighborhood favored by the Maharashtrian families his Shiv Sena party attracts. Thousands of the party’s followers, known as Shiv Sainiks, gathered outside his residence yesterday where they chanted slogans comparing Thackeray to a 17th-century local hero called Shivaji, who formed a Hindu kingdom and fought off attacks by Muslim rulers.

The Hindu-nationalist Shiv Sena, with a tiger as its mascot and a bow and arrow as its election symbol, has ruled Mumbai for two decades with campaigns targeting migrant workers and western cultural imports in the city and Maharashtra.

Thackeray, 86, is responding to medical treatment and is stable, his son Uddhav said in comments broadcast on television. Bollywood stars including Amitabh Bachchan have visited Thackeray’s bedside.

Doctors have not given details of Thackeray’s illness. Media reports have said he’s in a critical condition.

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 20 years, evolved from Thackeray’s ideology that Maharashtra belonged to the local Marathi community, and argued that their interests must take precedence over those from other states.

Migrants Attacked

Job and business opportunities have lured natives of other Indian states to Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, over the years. The city, referred to as India’s financial capital, is home to its two largest stock exchanges and some of the biggest corporate groups including Tata Sons Ltd., which controls the biggest business group by value, and Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), which runs the world’s largest refinery complex.

Thackeray, known for his aggressive writing in the party newspaper 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.

Khan Targeted

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 which 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, in which he owns a team.

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

Thackeray’s son Uddhav now heads the Shiv Sena. The right- wing party is a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, and the main opposition in Maharashtra state, which is ruled by Prime Manmohan Singh’s Congress party.

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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Pratish Narayanan in Mumbai at pnarayanan9@bloomberg.net; Shikhar Balwani in Mumbai at sbalwani@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Merritt at dmerritt1@bloomberg.net


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