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Bal Thackeray dies at 86, funeral expected on Sunday

Mumbai comes to a standstill, high alert across Maharashtra

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After days of uncertainty, Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray breathed his last on Saturday at his residence 'Matoshree'. He was 86. Thackeray, who founded the Shiv Sena in 1966 to fight for the rights of Maharashtrians, was suffering from lungs and pancreatic ailments and had been put on life-support system for the last few days. Thackeray was declared dead at 3.30 pm due to cardio respiratory arrest. The announcement was formally made by Dr Jalil Parkar.

His immediate family including son and successor Uddhav, nephew Raj Thackeray and the top leadership of the Shiv Sena were with him at his Bandra residence, Matoshree, in his last moments.

Thackeray is survived by sons Jaidev and Uddhav, who is the Executive President of the party. His nephew Raj had split from the family and found his own Maharashtra Navnirman Sena over six years ago following a succession row.

The funeral procession of the Shiv Sena founder would begin at 10 am on Sunday and Thackeray is likely to be cremated at 4 pm at Shivaji Park crematorium. Hundreds of Shiv Sena supporters who had gathered outside Mr Thackeray's home broke down and tried to console each other. Security has been stepped up in the metropolis in the wake of Thackeray's death. Mumbai police have issued an advisory asking citizens to only step out of houses only if there is an emergency.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called up Uddhav Thackeray to express his condolences and has also calm and sobriety. President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the death of Thackeray. Singh cancelled a dinner for BJP leaders scheduled today ahead of Parliament session following Sushma Swaraj's request.

Thackeray, who had relegated himself to the background after anointing Uddhav as his successor, had been suffering from respiratory problems and pancreatic disease. During last week he was put on life support.

Thackeray started out as a cartoonist alongside R K Laxman in the Free Press Journal in the 1950s, founded the Shiv Sena in 1966 on the plank of job security for the Marathi manoos (sons of the soil) which translated into attacks on South Indians whom he had blamed for taking away the opportunities from the locals. Later, his politics also centred around Hindu identity and anti-Congressism and was also unrestrained in his Muslim bashing.

Always the kingmaker, Thackeray was largely instrumental in ending the Congress hegemony in Maharashtra when the two parties stormed to power in 1994 and they shared power even at the Centre between 1998 and 2004. He never occupied any office.

Thackeray addressed Shiv Sainiks every year on Dussehra at Mumbai's Shivaji Park since Sena's inception. However, this year he could not attend the annual event, and his recorded address was telecast.In this recorded speech, Thackeray, visibly very ill, appealed the workers to support his son and executive president Uddhav Thackeray, and grandson and Sena youth wing president Aditya Thackeray. "I have collapsed physically," he had said.

NCP president and union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who had over four decade long friendship with Shiv Sena chief, said " Thackeray represented a line of thought all over his life and he fought for Marathi people all his life."

Former deputy prime minister LK Advani said "Thackeray was uncompromising in his patriotism and possessed immense qualities of leadership. His demise has left a void in country's politics."

In his reaction, BJP president Nitin Gadkari said "We have same amount of respect for as we have for AB Vajpayee. Thackeray's death is a major loss for the BJP and the Shiv Sena." Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi said "Balasaheb Thackeray was an epitome of courage & valour. I am grieved to hear about his demise. May his soul rest in peace."

Chhagan Bhujbal, former Shiv Sena leader and currently state public works minister said "We were hoping that he would revive but unfortunately that didn't happen."

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