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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Explained: Shiv Sena’s annual Dussehra rally, and why it matters to Sainiks

Balasaheb spared neither friends nor foes in his annual speeches at the Dussehra rally, employing his famed oratorical skills to take them on.

Written by Vishwas Waghmode , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: October 29, 2020 8:44:50 am
Shivsena party president Uddhav Thackeray addressing the 2019 Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park. File/Express Photo by Prashant Nadkar.

The annual Dussehra rally has been a Shiv Sena institution from the beginning. Sunday’s (October 25) address by Uddhav Thackeray, at which he launched an all-out attack on the BJP and the Centre, was the first by the Shiv Sena chief after he took office as Maharashtra Chief Minister.

The rally was unusual in that Thackeray spoke at the Savarkar Memorial auditorium near Shivaji Park in Dadar where, in accordance with the strict Covid-19 protocol, only a select group of 50 Ministers, leaders, MPs, and MLAs were present in person. The mass of Shiv Sainiks watched the rally virtually on the party’s social media platforms.

Why does the Shiv Sena hold an annual rally on Dussehra?

After the launch of the Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966, its founder Balsaheb Thackeray announced that the first public meeting of the party would be held on Dussehra day on October 30 that year, at Shivaji Park in Dadar. The announcement was made in Thackeray’s ‘Marmik’, a weekly magazine, which went on to become the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece.

“After the formation of the party, no meeting of the party workers was held. So, it was decided to hold a public meeting at Shivaji Park,” said Prakash Akolkar, senior journalist and author of ‘Jay Maharashtra: Ha Shivsena Navacha Itihas Ahe’.

Dussehra being a public holiday, it was likely seen as the most suitable date for the Sena’s first rally. Thereafter, the Sena made it an annual event on Dussehra, and Shiv Sainiks eagerly waited for the speeches of its leadership on that day every year.

The rally was addressed by Balasaheb until his death in 2012; Uddhav started addressing it from 2013 onward.

Balasaheb Thackeray. Express archive photo Oct.1 1995

What is the significance of the Dussehra rally for the Sena and Sainiks?

Balasaheb spared neither friends nor foes in his annual speeches at the Dussehra rally, employing his famed oratorical skills to take them on. It was also the occasion for the party chief to lay down the broad political objectives of the party for that year, and announce major political initiatives.

Shiv Sainiks take the Sena chief’s message during the Dussehra rally as nothing less than an order. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What have been the important Dussehra speeches by the Sena leadership in the past?

In 1991, Balsaheb declared in his speech that India’s scheduled cricket match with Pakistan would not happen in Mumbai. Subsequently, Shiv Sainiks stormed the Wankhede stadium and damaged the pitch, leading to the cancellation of the match.

“It was a statement by Thackeray in his speech, not an order to Shiv Sainiks. But taking their cue from the party chief’s speech, the Sainiks damaged the pitch,” Akolkar said.

Another significant milestone was the Dussehra rally of 1989, when the Sena chief started to take on the Congress, Akolkar said. “Until then, the Sena was believed to have the tacit support of the Congress in Mumbai. In 1989, the Sena chief took on the Congress directly, and also declared his commitment to Hindutva,” he said.

At the 2010 Dussehra rally, Balsaheb launched his grandson Aaditya into politics, anointing him the chief of the party’s youth wing, Yuva Sena.

In 2018, Uddhav Thackeray announced at the Dussehra rally that he would visit Ayodhya on November 25 that year, and asked the BJP-led government to spell out the date of construction of the Ram temple.

Has the venue for the Dusshera rally always been Shivaji Park?

From 1966 onward, the Sena’s annual Dussehra rally could not be held on only two occasions: in 2006 due to heavy rain in Mumbai, and in 2009 due to the Assembly elections. In 2014, while the Shiv Sena performed the traditional Dussehra Puja at the Shivaji Park, the rally was held in Borivli due to the Assembly elections of that year.

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