As India celebrates Dussehra on Wednesday to mark the victory of good over evil, will the festival provide the much-needed opportunity for Maharashtra’s former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to redeem himself? Or will the Eknath Shinde faction once again rain on Thackeray’s Shivaji Park parade?
The two camps, which came into existence after Shinde rebelled against Thackeray and engineered a split in the Sena, have been at loggerheads over holding the Dussehra rally — a sacrosanct part of the party’s traditions and crucial outreach strategy — at the famous Shivaji Park, a venue that carries the Bal Thackeray stamp.
As Shinde group had to content itself with holding its rally at the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) grounds in the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), it is the Thackeray faction that is gearing up to hold its rally at Shivaji Park, where they have been held every year since 1996, except for the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
News18 takes a look at the Sena’s Dussehra revelry and the Thackeray-Shinde rivalry:
SHIVAJI PARK — LEGACY OF BAL THACKERAY
Since 1966, when Sena supremo Bal Thackeray founded the party, the Dussehra rally has been an annual tradition. On October 30, 1966, the firebrand leader used the Dussehra rally to lay out the agenda for the party and since then, the premises became synonymous with his rousing speeches.
Shivaji Park remained a stage for generations of Thackerays as Uddhav Thackeray, in November 2019, took oath as the Maharashtra chief minister at the premises, where his father was cremated in 2012. His son Aaditya’s political innings also began from the park in 2010 with a rally.
While the Sena has always been associated with Shivaji Park, there were some years when the party was unable to hold its annual Dussehra rally at the premises.
In 2006, incessant downpour threw a spanner in the Sena’s plans. This was repeated during the 2009 state assembly elections.
The Covid-19 pandemic also affected the rally over the past two years. It was held virtually in 2020, while the next year, Shiv Sainiks assembled in Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai’s Kings Circle to adhere to coronavirus protocols.
WHY IS THE RALLY SIGNIFICANT FOR THACKERAY-LED SENA THIS TIME?
Both the Shiv Sena factions began vying for Shivaji Park in August this year as they applied to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for permission to hold the Dussehra rally. While Thackeray camp MP Anil Desai on August 22 sought the BMC’s permission, on August 30, Eknath faction’s MLA Sada Sarvankar also applied for permission to hold a rally in the same ground.
On September 21, BMC refused to give permission to both factions after which the party approached the Bombay High Court. The Thackeray group on September 23 told a bench headed by Justice Ramesh D Dhanuka that the Dussehra rally has been one of the most important annual events for the Sena since it was founded in 1966 and the Shivaji Park ground or Shivteerth has been its traditional venue and getting permissions was “matter of convention.”
Following this, the court directed BMC to allow the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena to hold the rally at Shivaji Park.
Staking claim to Shivaji Park is not just a factional war; it sends a message to the party cadre about establishing who the “original” Sena is.
WAR OF WORDS
Principles are important irrespective of the venue, Shinde said on Monday ahead of the Dussehra rally by his faction as he took a dig at his rival Thackeray. He asserted that his faction’s event on October 5 at BKC, a business district in suburban Mumbai, will be a success as lakhs of people are expected to attend the rally.
“I have visited the venue (in BKC) and the preparations are in full swing. Lakhs of people from across the state will come to the rally and all departments are working to ensure they don’t face any problem. Our preparations will get over tomorrow (Tuesday) and this rally will be a success,” Shinde said.
“Principles are important irrespective of the ground (Dussehra rally venue). We are taking forward the ideas of Balasaheb Thackeray. Looking at the response, the people have accepted our decision (to part ways with the Thackerays for the Sena aligning with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress),” he said, referring to his rebellion in June that led to the collapse of the three-party Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.
Earlier, Thackeray had taken a swipe at the BJP and the faction headed by Shinde, stating the saffron flag needs to be in one’s heart and not just in one’s hands. The BJP and Shinde faction have often accused Thackeray of compromising on the ideals of Hindutva by joining hands with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party for the sake of power.
“This is an opportunity given to us by God to save democracy in the country and preserve Hindutva. The saffron flag does not have to be just in one’s hands, it has to be in one’s heart. It is in my heart."
Looking for some peace on the festival, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said political conflicts are nothing new, but they should be within limits for the good of the state.
“He (Shinde) is also the leader of the 14 crore people of Maharashtra and thus has more responsibilities. We can only hope that both sides (Shinde and Thackeray) will conduct themselves in such a manner that bitterness does not further increase," Pawar said.
SO, WHICH IS THE REAL SHIV SENA?
In a big setback to Uddhav Thackeray’s faction, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to stop the Election Commission from deciding the claim of Eknath Shinde group to be the real Shiv Sena.
After a day-long hearing, a constitution bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud dismissed the interlocutory application filed on behalf of Thackeray’s faction. The apex court’s decision is very significant in view of the impending Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections, where both Shinde and Thackeray factions would like to contest the poll.
The bench — also comprising Justices M.R. Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli, and P.S. Narasimha — said there would not be any stay on the proceedings before the Election Commission on intra party dispute and ‘bow and arrow’ symbol of the party. “We direct that there would be no stay of the proceedings before the Election Commission of India," it said.
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