In death as in life, Bal Thackeray brought Bombay to a standstill. Thousands of policemen were called up to maintain order on Sunday, the day of his funeral. They needn’t have bothered, as the streets were deserted out of fear. Most residents chose to stay home rather than risk the wrath of Thackeray’s supporters.
On the other hand, a sizeable fraction of the population felt genuine grief at the death of the founder of the Shiv Sena party that governed Maharashtra state from 1995-99. More than one million people lined the streets to bid Thackeray farewell. So why did his nativist rhetoric resonate so widely over the last half century in India’s most open, meritocratic and vibrant city?