World Bulletin/News Desk
Bal Keshav Thackeray, one of India's most polarising politicians and leader of an influential right-wing Hindu nationalist party that has dominated politics in the country's richest city for two decades, has died aged 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.
A religious zealot whose grip over Mumbai often resembled that of a mob boss, Thackeray was president and founder of the hardline Shiv Sena (Shiva's Army) party, built around his fiery rhetoric on religion, immigration and communalism.
Thackeray, a former political cartoonist, waged a 50-year campaign against Muslims and immigrants from outside the state.
"Only Marathis have the first right over Mumbai," Thackeray wrote in his party's newspaper last year, referring to natives of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is capital. The party newspaper is called Saamna, which means "confrontation" in the Marathi language.
His rise to power in Mumbai, a city of about 20 million people, underscored the strong pull of religion and regionalism in modern India.
Thackeray often referred to Indian Muslims as "anti-nationals" and called for Hindu suicide squads to counter what he called "Islamic terrorism." He was also fiercely critical of Pakistan, decrying efforts by New Delhi to reach out to its neighboor.
A government inquiry into riots in Mumbai in 1992 and 1993 said "there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders of the Shiv Sena".
In 1992, members of Hindu right-wing groups, including the Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, were instrumental in destroying a 16th century mosque in north India that they said was the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama, and Thackeray was blamed for the violence and rioting that followed.
Thackeray was never charged in connection with the riots, in which about 600 Muslims were killed.
Thackeray's views have been condemned by many mainstream politicians, but his party is the fourth-largest in Maharashtra's state legislature, and his face adorns hundreds of billboards across Mumbai.
His death could spark a power struggle in the Shiv Sena, denting its support with its vote base in Maharashtra.Last Mod: 17 Kasım 2012, 14:35