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Mumbai poised for the ‘Shivtirth showdown’

With both the Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde factions staking claim to the “real” Shiv Sena, the annual Dasara rally at Shivaji Park is being seen as the decider

September 21, 2022 08:52 pm | Updated September 22, 2022 12:30 pm IST - Mumbai

Political showdown: Uddhav Thackeray at the annual Dasara meeting held at Shivaji Park on October 8, 2019. 

Political showdown: Uddhav Thackeray at the annual Dasara meeting held at Shivaji Park on October 8, 2019.  | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

With the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) yet to take a decision on the applications submitted by both the Uddhav Thackeray and rival Eknath Shinde factions of the Shiv Sena to hold the annual Dasara Melava (rally) at Shivtirth (as Shivaji Park is referred to by the Shiv Sena) in Mumbai on October 5, the Thackeray camp on Wednesday knocked on the doors of the Bombay High Court.

The petition by the Thackeray camp sought directions to the BMC to forthwith grant it permission for the Dasara rally, as it suspected that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde would use his office to get the application rejected, as he too “eyes” to address the ‘’real” Shiv Sainiks at Shivaji Park. However, the Division Bench of Justices R.D. Dhanuka and Kamal Khata posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.

With Shivtirth becoming the bone of contention between the two factions, the entire state, not just Mumbai, is headed for a nail-biting showdown over who carries the baton of the “real” Shiv Sena, which was founded by Bal Thackeray on June 19, 1966 .

The Shinde camp is confident of holding the meeting at Shivtirth as a “show of strength”. While it has gone ahead with making arrangements without waiting for the BMC permission, the Uddhav camp is also pulling all stops to hold the rally.

The annual Dasara meeting at Shivaji Park holds immense significance as it is when Shiv Sainiks from all corners of Maharashtra converge as a show of strength and listen to their party supremo's speech.

Saheb, as Bal Thackeray was affectionately called by his followers and even family members, addressed his first meeting of party workers here on Dasara on October 30, 1966. This is also the place from where he used to give fiery speeches, criticising the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.

Weeks before his death on November 17, 2012, the senior Thackeray’s recorded video (his message to Shiv Sainiks) was broadcast at the Dasara rally on October 24. In it, he sought support of the party workers for his son Uddhav Thackeray and grandson Aaditya Thackeray. “You took care of me. Now, take care of Uddhav and Aaditya,” he said.

Bal Thackeray’s last rites were performed at Shivaji Park. The government later built a memorial there in his honour.

Political analyst Prof. Surendra Jondhale said Shivtirth was an extremely important and sentimental site for the Shiv Sena, and that it was the “legitimate right” of Mr. Uddhav to hold the rally there as the party’s supremo.

“The place has a history. The breakaway Eknath Shinde group doesn’t have any moral right to hold a rally, especially when the matter of ‘real’ Shiv Sena is sub judice,” he said.

Mr. Jondhale questioned the political character of the Shinde faction. “The group doesn’t have any legal entitles and at this point of time, they can’t even claim that their Sena is the real Sena. So they can’t hold a rally,” he said.

Mr. Shinde was the frontman during Balasaheb's days in organising the Dasara rallies and was a known face in Mumbai (then Bombay). “While Saheb used to address the Shiv Sainiks, it was our leader, the chief of ‘real’ Shiv Sena, Eknath Shinde, who used to take care of all the arrangements. He knows the pulse of Shiv Sainiks,” an elected public representative from the Shinde faction said.

The Shinde camp is, at the moment, sitting on a comfortable pedestal, having already received the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s (MMRDA) exhibition grounds which, according to the camp’s spokesperson and former MLC Kiran Pawaskar, would be used for car parking during the rally. “We will continue to strive for permission to hold the rally at Shivaji Park,” he said.

The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, which had earlier formed the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, had lost its legitimacy by joining hands with arch-rivals, the Shinde faction has said. This was seen by the Marathi Manus as antithetical to the very vision of the Shiv Sena founder. “Despite our repeated advice, he (Uddhav Thackeray) joined hands with Congress and NCP, the parties which are against our Saheb’s ideology, to get power. How come we contest elections with our natural ally (BJP), and join our rivals to form the government?” Chief Minister Shinde said during a public meeting at Jalgaon on Tuesday.

He asked the supporters whether he had done the right thing by forming the government with the BJP or not.

The Shinde camp has maintained that except for being the son of Balasaheb, Mr. Uddhav neither represented the Shiv Sena ideals nor followed the party ideology in true spirit. “The moment he aligned with the Congress and the NCP, it defeated the purpose that Balasaheb strived for throughout his life,” they said.

It would augur well for the Uddhav faction if it stopped making noise about who should get the nod for the Shivaji Park function, the Shinde camp said.

However, leaders from the Thackeray faction said that Mr. Uddhav was still aligned with the vast masses who look at the Sena as their party. “He (Shinde) got all the power as Chief Minister. He got what he wanted, and now what is he scared of? Why is he not allowing us to hold the rally at Shivaji Park when he claims he has the support of the majority,” questioned Shiv Sena MLC and spokesperson Manisha Kayande.

She said that Mr. Shinde wanted to destroy the Shiv Sena by joining hands with the BJP. “He (Mr. Shinde) had a problem coming to Matoshree (private residence of Thackerays), but now to get every single work done, he has to rush to Delhi. What is the point in forming the government by back-stabbing your own people,” she asked.

Supporting Mr. Uddhav, former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said that the Shinde group was belligerently going forward to hold the rally at Shivaji Park. The Chief Minister should have a large heart and must allow Mr. Uddhav to hold the traditional rally at Shivtith, he said.

“Mr. Shinde got want he wants, and he should be contended with that. It is an unfortunate thing which is happening, and it doesn’t sound good for Maharashtra. There are other burning issues which require the urgent attention of the Chief Minister,” he said. It is better to allow the Thackeray group to hold the meet, he added.

Mr. Shinde, who led a revolt against the Shiv Sena leadership, was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra on June 30 after the MVA government collapsed.

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