MUMBAI, India -- Bal Thackeray, a Hindu extremist leader linked to waves of mob violence against Muslims and migrant workers in India, died Saturday after an illness of several weeks. He was 86.
Dr. Jalil Parkar said the politician had gone into cardiorespiratory arrest and "we were unable to revive [him]."
Thackeray, once a cartoonist, formed the Shiv Sena (Shiva's Army) in 1966 in Maharashtra. The political party's main aim has been to keep people not from Maharashtra out of the state and stem the spread of Islam and western values.
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.
As news of his death was announced outside his residence in Mumbai, many of his supporters sobbed and burst into tears. Thousands of his followers from across his power base in the western state of Maharashtra began gathering outside his home in the state capital as the news of his ill health spread earlier this week.
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, and Thackeray was blamed for the violence and rioting that followed. In Mumbai alone, nearly 1,000 people were killed.
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.