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Mumbai mourns controversial right-wing politician

The funeral of controversial Indian lawmaker, Bal Thackeray, has overtaken Mumbai. The right-wing politician was beloved by some and despised by others for espousing nationalist views in the name of defending rights.

Mourners filled the streets of India's financial capital on Sunday to pay their respects to the deceased Hindu right-wing leader as his funeral procession passed by on its way to a park in the city center.

Thackeray died on Saturday from a cardiac arrest at the age of 86 in Mumbai, the city in which he rose to political fame as a champion of the working class against the perceived threat of migrant workers.

Businesses closed across the city on Sunday, some reportedly because of pressure from Thackeray supporters.

Police were deployed in anticipation of clashes between the politician's base and opponents, but there were no reports of unrest during the funeral procession.

Television coverage showed massive crowds mourning the loss of a man who represented their rights in an immensely diverse country. Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan and industrialists such as Anil Ambani were also in attendance.

A local shopkeeper speaking to the news agency AFP expressed the sentiment presumably felt by many on Sunday.

"He got a fitting last journey, among his people and with a gunfire salute. For 100 years, Maharashtra (state) will not find another leader like him," Arvind Ghote told AFP.

Nearly two million travelled to Mumbai for the state funeral, according to IANs news agency. Some 200,000 gathered in Shivaji Park for the funeral pyre, where Thackeray's body was cremated.

Hardline Hindu

Bal Thackaray, born in 1926 in the city of Pune, 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Mumbai, began his career as a cartoonist. In 1966, he founded the right-wing political party Shiv Sena to represent the interests of the population of the Indian state, Maharshtra, as the local Marathi-speaking Hindu came under the perceived threat of a large influx of workers from around India and Bangladesh.

Shiv Sena's nationalist stance influenced the decision to rid Bombay of its colonial roots, reemerging as Mumbai, the capital of Maharshtra state.

His party, currently the state government's second most powerful political force, earned a reputation for supporting sectarian violence. In the early 1990s, Shiv Sena members incited riots between Hindus and Muslims in the state capital, leading to the death of roughly 1,000 people. Thackeray was accused, but never convicted in the case.

kms/msh (AFP, dpa)