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Edgy Mumbai shuts down, son collapses
Loyalists sob at street corners as an era ends

Mumbai, Nov. 17: Uddhav Thackeray, who had an angioplasty this month, collapsed to the ground when doctors finally declared Bal Thackeray dead at 3.30pm today.

For almost a week, the favourite son and political heir had watched his father swing between life and death, insisting in public “he was well” and urging Shiv Sainiks not to give up hope.

The official announcement was made at 5pm, but the flurry of activity outside Matoshree from 3.45pm had got Sainiks nervous.

At 3.50pm, nephew Raj Thackeray arrived with wife Sharmila and leaders of his party. Raj, who was at the wheel, honked impatiently when police took time to let him in.

Since last Saturday, when he rushed back from Pune because Thackeray whose health was failing had summoned him, Raj has been a regular visitor to the Bandra residence. He has also made two joint appearances with Uddhav, differences with whom had led him to quit the Sena more than six years ago.

Today, however, the cousins shut themselves in. “The family decided to request the doctors to break the news of Balasaheb’s death,” said a source close to the Thackerays.

Around 4.55pm, Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut walked out of Matoshree with pulmonologist Jaleel Parker, who has led the team on doctors attending on Thackeray.

“We are here to make an unfortunate announcement. Shri Balasaheb Thackeray passed away at 3.30pm today. He suffered a cardiac arrest. We tried to revive him but could not,” Parker said.

Sena supporters sobbed inconsolably and within 10 minutes, the crowd outside Matoshree had surged, chanting slogans.

Sena leader Gajanan Kirtikar appealed for peace and calm: “This is an unfortunate incident for us and our emotions will surge. But we need to respect Balasaheb and show restraint. We are only left with the way that leads to Shivaji Park.”

Thackeray’s body will be taken to Shivaji Park in the morning tomorrow and will remain there till 5pm, for followers to pay their respects.

The Maharashtra government had put the police force on red alert and 20,000 men on duty. But the city was largely peaceful today, even though it saw a complete shutdown within minutes of the announcement.

Sainiks and loyalists gathered at street corners, many sobbing inconsolably as passers-by hurried past, afraid the grief of thousands might turn into the rage of a mob.

“For the Shiv Sainik, Balasaheb’s death is beyond personal loss. It is the end of hope in a city where the middle-class Marathi manoos feels more and more culturally and financially marginalised and disempowered,” said Salil Gore, a BMC official who walked 15km from his office near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Matoshree.

Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut asked party workers not to crowd at Matoshree and to go to Shivaji Park tomorrow.

Condolences came from all quarters. Sonia Gandhi was among leaders from across the political spectrum who condoled Thackeray’s death.

Industry leader Ratan Tata said in his message: “Mr Balasaheb Thackeray was a strong leader of his people — respected and admired by many. He was outspoken but driven by his principles.”

Veteran actor Dilip Kumar, who had refused to follow Thackeray’s diktat in 1998 and return Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian award that had been conferred on him, also mourned the Sena founder.

“We are deeply grieving the passing of Balasaheb Thackeray who I always thought was not a tiger but a lion. He had the virtues of a lion. We will cherish in our memories the lively evenings at his home when we smoothened out our differences over cups of strong masala tea,” he wrote in his blog.

Towards the end, Thackeray’s medical team aggressively tried to keep him alive, giving combined shots of adrenalin and sodium bicarb to resuscitate him on Wednesday when his heartbeat had become dangerously low. Later, the family also sought alternative therapies.

“Raj did not agree with all that was going on, but kept quiet,” a family source said.

Sainiks and his own partymen were surprised to see Raj leave Matoshree around 9.15pm on Saturday. They had expected that the MNS leader, who had shared a deep bond with his uncle before the estrangement, would be on vigil by his side all night.