Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena writes to ECI, objects to BJP’s free pilgrimage promise

Uddhav Thackeray said that his party has raised questions to Chief Election Commissioner regarding its perceived ‘double standards’ when dealing with PM Modi and Amit Shah

November 16, 2023 10:22 pm | Updated 10:28 pm IST - Pune

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) chief Uddhav Thackeray addressed the press conference, at Matoshree Bungalow, in Mumbai on November 16, 2023.

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) chief Uddhav Thackeray addressed the press conference, at Matoshree Bungalow, in Mumbai on November 16, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) chief Uddhav Thackeray on November 16 lashed out at Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent promise to the Madhya Pradesh electorate of a free pilgrimage to the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

Mr. Thackeray stated that his party had written to the Election Commission of India (ECI) demanding action against Mr. Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for seeking votes on the basis of religion.

Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, Mr. Thackeray said that during the Karnataka Assembly election held in May this year, PM Modi had similarly sought votes along religious lines, asking people to chant ‘Victory to Bajrang Bali’ before casting their votes.

“Is it proper to ask votes based on religion? If that is the case, in the next election, I, too will exhort voters to chant ‘Victory to Bhavani! Victory to Shivaji!’ and ‘Hail Mahadev’ before pressing the EVM button. And then, I will surely tell them to utter ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ [referring to Ganesha’s association with intelligence] in order to give these politicians some wisdom to stop seeking votes in this fashion,” said Mr. Thackeray, in a strong rebuke to Mr. Shah and Mr. Modi.

At a recent rally in Raghogarh in Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Shah had exhorted voters to give the BJP a mandate in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly election for which the party would ensure the electorate could make a free pilgrimages to the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

“Do you want to have darshan of Ramlala or not? You will have to spend [money] for the same. But do not worry about the expenses. Give a mandate to the BJP to form its government on December 3 [results of the MP Assembly election] and the government will make sure you have darshan free of cost,” Mr. Shah had said in Raghogarh.

Also read | Ahead of MP assembly elections, BJP and Congress spar over Ayodhya Ram temple

Criticising Mr. Shah for making such promises, and questioning the ECI’s ‘double standards’, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray observed that his father, the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, had been slapped with a six-year ban on voting in the past for having invoked pro-Hindutva slogans during a poll campaign.

“In the past, nobody had the courage to invoke religion during elections. It was only Balasaheb Thackeray who coined had the slogans of ‘Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain’ [State proudly ‘we are Hindus’] and ‘Mandir wahin banayenge’ [There alone shall the temple be built]. However, at the time, he was banned from exercising his voting right for six years on grounds of ‘corrupt’ electoral practices,” said the Sena (UBT) chief.

Mr. Thackeray questioned the ECI why “a different yardstick” was being applied in the case of Mr. Shah and PM Modi.

“Does the ECI follow some different rules for Modi and Shah? Why the double standards for the BJP and different for other leaders and parties. One cannot say that elections are being held in a free and fair atmosphere. It is as if the BJP has a ‘free hit’ while if we [non-BJP parties] do something, then it is ‘hit wicket’,” Mr. Thackeray said.

Shiv Sena (UBT) secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Anil Desai has written to the Chief Election Commissioner, seeking clarification about the use of religion during campaigning for the forthcoming 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

“The double standards applied by the ECI are intriguing, yet understandable, given the fact that the ECI is publicly perceived to be in alignment with whatever the BJP does during elections and even otherwise,” said Mr. Desai in the letter.

Interestingly, Mr. Thackeray’s remarks against the BJP found a curious echo in a similar statement made by his estranged cousin – Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) president Raj Thackeray – who similarly questioned the BJP for trying to lure voters with the promise of a free pilgrimage, and for using the Ram Mandir as a bait to garner votes.

“Elections should be fought on the development works. That is more important and that is what needs to be showcased before the public. Why are you using Ram Mandir to lure voters? Why don’t you tell them what you [the BJP] have been doing despite being in power at the Centre all these years,” said Mr. Raj Thackeray.

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