Despite his divisiveness, Indians from all walks of life offered their condolences following the death of extremist political leader Balasaheb Thackeray.
Founder of the Shiv Sena political party, he died Saturday of a heart attack at age 86.
“The passing away of Bala Saheb will be deeply felt by his family and followers,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Twitter, according to The New York Times. “He was a consummate communicator whose stature in the politics of Maharashtra was unique.”
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, also through Twitter, said: “Speak no ‘ill’ of the dead. Respect them in the hours of their death.
“The story of Mumbai is incomplete without Balasaheb Thackeray. … The memory of Bal Thackeray will live in the memory of we Mubaikars forever.”
Fearing violent reactions, Indian officials pleaded for calm as police remained on alert.
“Citizens should only step out of houses only if there is an emergency,” a police appeal said, according to The Los Angeles Times. “An appeal is made to people to maintain calm and peace.”
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Among his more contentious views, the LA Times said, Thackeray had praised Adolph Hitler’s leadership abilities, condemned Valentine’s Day as too western and espoused a Hindu-first, anti-immigration philosophy.
His politics had led to mob violence against Muslims and migrant workers, The Associated Press reported.
He had been sick for several days, prompting his followers from the western state of Maharashtra to gather around his home.
Thackeray began his career as a cartoonist before forming Shiv Sena – or Shiva’s Army – in 1966.
His party held power in Mumbai from 1995 to 2000, the AP said.
Shiv Sena supporters and another right-wing party, Bharatiya Janata, destroyed an ancient Indian mosque in 1992, triggering waves of violence that killed 1,000.
A funeral is planned for Sunday, The New York Times said.
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