Updated: August 19, 2021 7:48:36 pm
Amid concerns of a showdown, Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Narayan Rane on Thursday made a foray into Shiv Sena territory by paying a floral tribute at the Bal Thackeray memorial in Shivaji Park here.
The visit to the Thackeray memorial, the first stop on his “Jan Ashirwad Yatra” of the Konkan area of the state, took place amid tight security. The state government deployed additional police personnel to avoid clashes between Sena and BJP workers. The BMC had stripped his route between Bandra and Dadar clean of his posters.
On Wednesday, Shiv Sena leader and MP Vinayak Raut had said that Rane does not have the “moral right” to visit Thackeray’s memorial and Shiv Sainiks will not allow him. But Rane’s on Thursday visit passed uneventfully after what appears to have been a deliberate decision by the party to ignore the minister.
“Every party carries out its activities. The MVA government is performing excellently under the leadership of CM Uddhav Thackeray and taking decisions in the interest of common people. Then, if anybody holds a rally, it doesn’t matter. It is the matter of their own party,” Eknath Shinde, Urban Development Minister, told the media when asked about Rane’s tour in Mumbai.
Sources in the Sena said the party leadership asked its cadre not to resort to any protest or opposition. However, the party is watching the BJP rally and Rane closely, said a leader.
State BJP leaders accorded Rane a grand welcome at the airport, from where he drove in the special purpose yatra vehicle from Andheri to Shivaji Park via Vile Parle, Bandra.
At the Thackeray memorial, Rane was guarded by a ring of security personal. He offered flowers and bowed his head and folded his hands to express salutation to his political mentor.
Speaking to the media, Rane became nostalgic. He said, “I offered my tribute and gratitude to Saheb (Bal Thackeray). I wish he was present in person to bless me. But I know in my heart that if he was present, he would have been proud of my achievements. His blessings will always be with me.”
On some Sena leaders disapproving of his visit to the memorial, Rane said, “When you visit the Thackeray memorial, it is to offer reverence. Why should anybody object? It is petty.”
Saying he was already “overwhelmed” by the response to the Jan Ashirwad Yatra, he predicted the BJP would win the Mumbai civic elections due early next year. “BJP will return to power. We will ensure the end of three decades of Shiv Sena regime in BMC,” he asserted.
Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis said, “Those questioning Rane’s visit to the Thackeray memorial are displaying their mean mind and shallow thinking. In our tradition, we often set aside our ideologies, political and personal differences when we visit the memorial of great persons.”
Outside the airport, Rane addressed people from a makeshift podium with a huge colourful umbrella held above his head to shield him from rain. In his first speech of the yatra, Rane targeted CM Thackeray, making it clear that this was the agenda of the tour. “Uddhav is leading the state towards demolition,” Rane declared, pledging that the yatra was the start of BJP’s comeback.
He said he was in Maharashtra to seek the blessings of people. “I have just taken charge as Union cabinet minister. Sitting in the Union cabinet under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi is a new experience. I pledge I will use my portfolio to serve the people of Maharashtra. I will ensure employment generation to maximum youths through MSMEs,” he said.
Rane’s yatra is part of the BJP’s early campaign for the BMC elections. In the 2017 BMC elections, Sena and BJP contested against each other despite being alliance partners in the Fadnavis-led state government. The contest for 227 wards saw BJP winning 82 seats and Sena 84.
In what is often described as a “mini Assembly” election, BJP needs to show gains against Sena, which leads the state government as well as the corporation.
Fadnavis underplayed the civic elections aspect. “Jan Ashirwad Yatra is to reach out to people with the Centre’s welfare programmes. Polls and power are not the mainstay. Serving people is our real agenda.”
All four ministers from Maharashtra inducted in July’s cabinet expansion in the Modi government are on the Jan Ashirwad Yatra. The other three — Kapil Patil, Bharati Pawar and Bhagwat Karad — started the Yatra on August 17.
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