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Updated Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 08:16 PM

Huge crowds at funeral for Hindu extremist leader in India

By The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times

MUMBAI, India — Hundreds of thousands of grieving supporters thronged the streets of Mumbai on Sunday for the funeral of Bal Thackeray, a Hindu extremist leader linked to waves of mob violence against Muslims and migrant workers in India.

Nearly 20,000 policemen were on hand because of the group's violent history. The mourners, however, remained calm and orderly as the body of Thackeray was cremated at Shivaji park, where he had made his political debut by addressing a public rally 46 years ago.

Top Indian politicians, industrialists and Bollywood stars including L.K. Advani, Sharad Pawar, Anil Ambani and Amitabh Bachchan, earlier placed floral wreathes aside Thackeray's body, which was wearing his trademark dark sunglasses.

Thackeray, 86, a powerful, rabble-rousing orator for Shiv Sena — Shiva's Army — died Saturday. He had been ill for several weeks.

Thackeray's Sena is among the most xenophobic of India's Hindu right-wing political parties and held power in Mumbai from 1995 to 2000. His supporters often called him Hindu Hriday Samrat, or emperor of Hindu hearts.

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. Thackeray was blamed for the violence and the rioting that followed. In Mumbai alone, nearly 1,000 people were killed.

His extreme regional and religious parochialism led him to advocate Hindu suicide bombers and planting bombs in Muslim neighborhoods to "protect the nation and all Hindus."

Even though the Shiv Sena's political grip over Mumbai has been waning over the last decade, it still commands tens of thousands of violent followers.

In the early 1990s, Thackeray led a successful campaign to drop what he called the colonially tainted name Bombay — a Portuguese derivation of "beautiful bay" — and replace it with Mumbai, after the local Marathi language name for a Hindu goddess.

Among his more controversial beliefs included his admiration for Adolf Hitler's leadership skills and opposition to Valentine's Day, which he viewed as a celebration of wantonness and anti-Indian values.

Shiv Sena's repeated threats to shut down Bollywood productions if they didn't hire more locals were often seen by critics as little more than a shakedown.

Thackeray opposed India-Pakistan cricket matches and other efforts at reconciliation between the two wary nuclear neighbors, writing in 2008 that Islamic terrorism was growing and Hindu terrorism was the only way to counter it.

"We need suicide bomb squads to protect India and Hindus," he added.


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