The Shiv Sena will not participate in the nationwide bandh called by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on September 20 to oppose the recent hike in diesel price.

The Sena, a key ally of the BJP in Maharashtra, will stay out in view of the coming Ganesh festival, its executive president Uddhav Thackeray said at a press conference here on Sunday. Mr. Thackeray made the announcement even as his party took to the streets early in the day demanding a rollback of the hike.

“We will not participate in the bandh as the Ganpati festival is huge in Maharashtra. That does not imply a rift in the alliance. We are with the NDA; we are opposed to the hike. The bandh should be observed in the whole country. Shops in Maharashtra have declared their support to the bandh and we support that,” he said.

Mr. Thackeray said that in the last eight years, the government had hiked the price of petrol 51 times, that of diesel 42 times and of LPG cylinders 12 times.

Addressing a protest rally in the morning, Mr. Thackeray dared United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and others to withdraw support to the Congress-led dispensation at the Centre in light of the diesel price hike.

“It is not enough to merely voice dissent. Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa have opposed the policy. In Thane, some Nationalist Congress Party [a key ally of the UPA] members told Ajit Pawar they were against the hike. Those who back the Congress, be it the [Samajwadi Party leader] Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ms. Banerjee, Ms. Jayalalithaa or Mr. Pawar, if you have the courage, you should withdraw support to the government and bring about its downfall,” Mr. Thackeray said outside the landmark Siddhivinayak temple on Sunday.

In a warning to Mr. Pawar, Mr. Thackeray said the NCP chief “should be ready to suffer the consequences” if he decided to back the Congress.

Sena rally

In a massive show of strength, thousands of Sena supporters marched from Shivaji Park to the temple. Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aditya flagged off the rally, which also had bullock carts, horse-drive ponies and carriages, bicycles and motorbikes. Protesters carried LPG cylinders, black flags and posters criticising UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sena executive president played the Hindutva card saying the government had taken the decision ahead of a Hindu festival, namely Ganesh Chaturthi.

“What kind of a policy is this? You take good care of Kasab, Afzal Guru and Abu Jundal, treat them with biryani, but you keep your people in misery. All the concerns and worries, only during our festivals,” he said.

Left in the lurch

He criticised the Congress government for leaving the “aam admi” in the lurch after coming to power on the votes of the common people. He hit out at the Prime Minister for justifying the hike as a move for the welfare of the people.

Referring to Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s statement that the coal block allocation scam would soon be forgotten, Mr. Thackeray said the statement reflected the attitude of the UPA.

Aditya Thackeray said scams had become the order of the day and it had become difficult to keep track of what was happening in the country. He called upon the Congress to pay heed to the distress and anger among the people.

The former Maharashtra Chief Minister and prominent Sena leader Manohar Joshi said that after the stalling of Parliament, anger against the government had now poured on to the streets.

MNS not to participate

The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena will also stay out of the nationwide bandh. However, the party has opposed the fuel price hike.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which will be the only party to support the bandh in the State, has assured the people that they could safely take Ganesh idols for immersion, an event falling on the same day as the bandh.

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