Mumbai: Bal Thackeray will be cremated today at Shivaji Park, where he launched the Shiv Sena 46 years ago at a massive rally on Dussehra. The police expect a crowd of three to four lakh at the ground, but the numbers are said to be growing.
The Shiv Sena chief died on Saturday afternoon, after a prolonged illness at the age of 86. (Read more) A funeral procession left his Bandra home 'Matoshree' with Mr Thackeray's body being carried in a hearse on a flower bedecked truck around 9 am. There is a three-tier security around it - the Mumbai Police make up the first layer, the Rapid Action Force (RAF) is the second tier and Shiv Sena volunteers make up the third. Around 10 lakh grieving Shiv Sena workers are walking along making it slow progress. They have poured into Mumbai from all over Maharashtra since yesterday.
The Shiv Sena's executive president and Bal Thackeray's son and successor Uddhav, his wife Rashmi and son Aditya are on truck that is carrying Mr Thackeray. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief and Bal Thackeray's nephew Raj was also on the truck but reportedly got down to walk the distance. (In Pics: Bal Thackeray's final journey)
The body was taken to Mahim Causeway, then to Sena Bhavan, the Shiv Sena headquarters in Dadar, to Meena Tai statue in Dadar and is finally moving towards Shivaji Park. Mr Thackeray's body will be kept there till 5 pm for people to pay their respects.
The Shiv Sena has obtained permission to perform his last rites at the park at 6 pm; he will also be given full state honours. This is the first funeral to be held at Shivaji Park; the ground had special significance for Bal Thackeray, who launched his political party here in 1966. It was the venue for many of his rallies over the years, including his last public address on Dussehra this year, when he spoke to the crowd through a recorded video message. (Follow our special coverage here)
Security is tight, with all of Mumbai's 48,000 policemen deployed today; Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh has cancelled his daughter's wedding reception tonight as he shall be busy with security detailing. At every 100 metres along the route of the funeral procession, 25 policemen have been deployed. The police has issued a traffic advisory and suggested that people stay home, unless absolutely necessary. "I appeal to people to remain calm and maintain law and order," the Mumbai Police Commissioner said. (Read: Traffic restrictions in Mumbai)
Many Bollywood stars, important politicians and industrialists are expected to travel across the city today to pay their respects; they visited Mr Thackeray in great numbers over Wednesday and Thursday this week signalling that despite his divisive politics, Mr Thackeray commanded the attention of virtually every camp in the city. (Read: The legacy of Bal Thackeray)
No autorickshaws or taxis are plying in Mumbai today; the BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport) has arranged for extra buses. Central Railway will run 23 special suburban trains from 4:45 pm to 10:00 pm - 14 on Dadar-Kalyan section and nine on CST-Vadala-Belapur section.
The funeral procession was scheduled to leave Matoshree at 7 am today, but was delayed as roads around the Thackeray residence were filled with thousands of supporters. Bal Thackeray's body was finally brought out of his house a little after 9 am in a hearse adorned with flowers. Uddhav Thackeray broke down as his father's body was being put on to the truck.
At Matoshree security has been very tight. As news of Bal Thackeray's death spread on Saturday afternoon, thousands of Shiv Sena workers gathered within minutes outside the Thackeray home. Till late in the night, there was a crowd of about 6,000 people there. About 2,000 cops have been posted there.
(With inputs from PTI)