x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Shiv Sena's Bal Thackeray 'critical'

Bollywood stars, including Amitabh Bachchan, have visited Siv Sena founder's bedside as thousands of the party's followers gather outside his Mumbai home.

Supporters gather outside the residence of ailing right-wing Hindu party Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
Supporters gather outside the residence of ailing right-wing Hindu party Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

MUMBAI // Police commandos stood guard at the home of the ailing Mumbai politician Bal Thackeray amid concerns of violence by supporters of his Shiv Sena party, which has ruled the city for two decades with campaigns targeting migrant workers.

As Mr Thackeray's family appealed for calm, thousands of the party's followers, known as Shiv Sainiks, gathered outside his residence in the Bandra East area of Mumbai, a neighbourhood favoured by the Maharastrian families the party appealed to.

Bollywood stars, including Amitabh Bachchan, have visited Mr Thackeray's bedside.

Mr Thackeray, 86, is a Hindu-nationalist politician whose party campaigns against migrant workers and western cultural imports in Mumbai and the Indian state of Maharashtra. Shiv Sena is named after a 17th-century local hero called Shivaji, who formed a Hindu kingdom and fought off attacks by Muslim rulers.

Doctors have not given details of Mr Thackeray's illness. Reports have suggested that he is in a critical condition and on a life-support machine at his residence, while party and family members have described his condition as stable.

A former newspaper cartoonist, Mr Thackeray founded Shiv Sena in 1966. The party, which has controlled Mumbai's city government in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata party for most of the past 20 years, evolved from Mr Thackeray's ideology that Maharashtra belonged to the local Marathi community, and argued that their interests must take precedence over those from other states.

Job and business opportunities have lured natives of other Indian states to Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, over the years. The city, referred to as India's financial capital, is home to the country's two largest stock exchanges and some of the biggest corporate groups, including Tata Sons Ltd, which controls the biggest business group by value, and Reliance Industries Ltd, which runs the world's largest refinery complex.

Mr Thackeray, known for his aggressive writing in Saamna, the party mouthpiece, first targeted migrants from south India. Similar tactics were adopted by his nephew, Raj Thackeray, against workers from poorer north Indian states -many of them Muslims - after he split with his uncle to form his own political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, in 2006.

Labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were attacked by Raj Thackeray's party in Mumbai and other districts of Maharashtra in 2008, leading to his arrest and then bail on charges of inciting violence.

Normally busy roads in Bandra were deserted yesterday with taxis and auto rickshaws asking for many times the normal rate to venture out on the streets. Police leave has been cancelled.

In February 2010, police in Mumbai arrested 1,000 Shiv Sena members after they smashed up cinemas to prevent the screening of My Name is Khan, a film that featured Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood's biggest stars. Khan was targeted after he publicly regretted the absence of players from Islamic Pakistan in the world's richest cricket competition.

The party has also in the past violently opposed the celebration of Valentine's Day, saying it is not part of traditional Indian culture.

Mr Thackeray's son Uddhav now heads the Shiv Sena. The right wing party is a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, and the main opposition in Maharashtra state, which is ruled by the Congress party of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

Mr Thackeray was briefly held by police in 2000 on charges of inciting hatred against Mumbai's minority Muslim community during religious riots in 1992 and 1993. A local court dismissed the case invoking the statute of limitations, saying that the alleged crime, which took place more than seven years earlier, was too old to be proceeded with.