MUMBAI: Ailing Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who was in a critical condition, today passed away after a prolonged illness.
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray died on Saturday afternoon at his residence here, his doctor announced. He was 86.
Thackeray died of cardio-respiratory arrest on Saturday at his home, one of his doctors, Jalil Parker, said. He had been ill for some time and was rumoured to have died earlier this week.
Photos: The life & times of Bal Thackeray
Thousands of supporters massed outside his residence as his death was announced at 4.55 p.m. to a shocked Maharashtra, whose political stage he dominated for over four decades with his hard, rightwing political views that often rocked the entire nation.
He was born on January 23, 1926. Thackeray started his career as a political cartoonist.
Thackeray to be cremated Sunday evening
Bal Thackeray will be cremated Sunday evening at the crematorium beside Shivaji Park.
"Thackeray's body is at present kept at Matoshri. Tomorrow morning, around 7.30 a.m., it will be taken to Shiv Sena Bhavan for party workers to pay their respects. From there, it will be taken to Shivaji Park where the public can pay their last respects from 10 a.m.," party MP Sanjay Raut told mediapersons Saturday evening.
Elaborate arrangements were being made by an army of workers at Shivaji Park for the sea of humanity expected Sunday, also a holiday.
Mumbai Police are also making fool-proof security arrangements in Bandra, along the entire route to Shiv Sena Bhavan, the party headquarters in Dadar West, and to the Shivaji Park.
Raut said public 'darshan' would be allowed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Shivaji Park. Later, the funeral will be held at crematorium nearby.
Shivaji Park in south-central Mumbai is the same place where 46 years ago, Thackeray addressed his first Dussehra rally and continued the annual tradition virtually uninterrupted till his death Saturday.
He is survived by his sons, political heir and Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray and filmmaker Jaidev. A widower, Thackeray's wife Meena and his eldest son Bindhumadhav passed away in 1996.
His nephew, Raj Thackeray, once considered his political heir, broke away to form his own regional party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which often competed with Shiv Sena in espousing extreme rightwing views that championed local Marathi pride and exclusivism at the expense of other communities that resided in India's richest and most industrialised state.
Earlier in the week, party leader Sanjay Raut said that Bal Thackeray's condition improved and he has been taken off life support system.
Thackeray has been "taken off the life support system... he is definitely responding to treatment", Raut told a television channel.
The 86-year-old was in coma and on life support system, sources earlier told Hindustan Times. He was not able to breathe on his own and was on the bypass machine, a non-invasive machine that takes over the breathing and circulatory functions temporarily.
Since the past few days, a team of four to five doctors from Lilavati Hospital have been checking on him at Matoshri at least thrice a day.
Thackeray's kidney functions also failed, said doctors.
Four days ago, Thackeray, in a personalised edit in Saamna, the party mouthpiece, had declared that his health was poor, but he was not put on ventilator, as claimed by a section of the media.
Mumbai Police and other security agencies have made tight security arrangements around Matoshri, the Thackeray clan's home in Bandra west.
One of the most outspoken figures of India's Hindu nationalist movement, Thackeray has in the past called for the formation of Hindu suicide squads, once ordered his followers to dig up a cricket pitch to stop the Pakistani team from playing in Mumbai and spoke of his admiration for Adolf Hitler.
Thackeray, a former political cartoonist, waged a 50-year campaign against immigrants from outside the state. He accused immigrants of taking jobs away from residents of Mumbai, endearing him to large numbers of young working class men.
His rise to power in Mumbai, a city of about 20 million people, underscored the strong pull of religion and regionalism in modern India, a constitutionally secular country prone to clashes over its many faiths and traditions.
Always seen in oversized tinted sunglasses, even when indoors, with a necklace of beads over orange robes typically worn by religious figures, Thackeray held a strong grip on Mumbai through his army of loyal supporters, whose rallies and protests often turned violent and forced the city to a halt.
Shiv Sena, which has controlled Mumbai's city council since 1996, is a key ally of the national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.