Indian Extremist Leader Dies

Posted November 18th, 2012 at 2:55 am (UTC-5)
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Many Indians bid an emotional farewell Sunday to a controversial Hindu extremist leader.

Thousands gathered in Mumbai to witness the funeral procession of Bal Thackeray, chief of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party. He was one of India's most divisive politicians, but he was also beloved by many.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for “calm and sobriety” during a period of loss and mourning for many in India.

The 86-year-old Thackeray died Saturday of cardiac arrest.

The former cartoonist founded Shiv Sena, or Shiva's Army, in 1966 to defend the rights of local Marathi-speaking people and to keep people who were not from Maharashtra out of the state. The group also sought to stem the spread of Islam and Western values.

Thackeray's Sena was one of the most xenophobic of India's Hindu right-wing political parties. The party held power in Mumbai from 1995 to 2000. However, Thackeray never held an elected office.

In 1992, members of Hindu right-wing groups, including Shiv Sena, were instrumental in destroying a centuries-old mosque in northern India. After the destruction, Thackeray was blamed for the riots that broke out across Mumbai. About 1,000 people were killed in the violence.

Thackeray is survived by two sons.