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Mumbai on Thackeray watch

Mumbai, Nov. 15: The lights went off. The lights came back. Balasaheb was “recovering”.

Diwali lamps flickered back as a timorous city, which had snuffed out celebrations yesterday following a Shiv Sena diktat amid reports of Bal Thackeray’s deteriorating health, squirmed back to life today after two party leaders claimed the patriarch was getting better.

“Balasaheb is recovering,” Babasaheb Purandare told The Telegraph.

“His condition is getting better. Shiv Sainiks have been praying for his health and the prayers and the medicine seem to be working,” said Thackeray aide Santosh Desai.

The claims — although doctors treating the 86-year-old said he was still critical — pepped up Sena workers who went back to finishing the three-day Diwali Mumbai usually celebrates.

Some shops lifted shutters while autorickshaws and taxis reappeared on roads. In areas like Parel and Dadar, where the Sena has a massive following, religious songs set to popular Bollywood tunes blared from microphones.

Around 11 tonight, Thackeray’s son Uddhav emerged from family residence Matoshree to say his father “is well”. He asked supporters to have faith in god and pray.

But last night was long — and grim.

Second-rung Sena leaders had sent out word that the city must switch off Diwali lamps as a mark of respect to the ailing leader. Motorists were instructed to drive with their headlights turned off. Sena cadres blocked the Western Express Highway, one of the city’s arterial roads.

When Amitabh Bachchan and son Abhishek tried to visit Matoshree around 11pm, the emotionally charged crowd pushed and shoved the actor, tearing his kurta. “Balasaheb Thackeray: a fighter all his life, fights his life! Prayers needed now! Yes both Abhishek and me were injured with cuts, but are fine and back home... the doctors at Matoshree attended on us,” Amitabh later tweeted.

“When the Bofors Scandal accusations on us were at its peak, he called me home and asked ‘tell me the truth, are you involved?’ When I said ‘No!’, he said, ‘Then do not worry about anything. I am with you’,” Amitabh further wrote.

Around 1.30am, Uddhav and his cousin Raj Thackeray came out and signalled the nearly 8,000-strong crowd to stay calm. Around 2am, Uddhav appealed to the cadres not to lose hope.

Today, the hope was back.

“He is our God, you wouldn’t understand,” a woman fumed, stopped from crossing the barricades, after the Kapoor brothers — Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv — left Matoshree.

The cops wouldn’t listen but her God, at least, was “well”.