Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray took oath as the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra Thursday evening, heading a government of the Maha Vikas Aghadi that will also include the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.
The ceremony took place at the historic Shivaji Park maidan, a 28-acre open space in the Marathi-dominated Dadar neighbourhood of central Mumbai. Shivaji Park is a prized bastion of the Shiv Sena, and holds immense emotional value for the party.
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Even in 1995, when the former Shiv Sena-BJP alliance won state elections for the first time, Sena leader Manohar Joshi was sworn in as Chief Minister at the same venue.
Rooted in history
Founded in 1925 as Mahim Park, the open space was renamed as Shivaji Park in 1927 due to efforts by freedom fighter, suffragist and then BMC councillor Avantikabai Gokhale. A statue of Shivaji was erected by public subscription.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the park hosted national independence rallies, and post-Independence became one of the rallying points of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, which demanded the carving out of a separate Maharashtra from the erstwhile Bombay state.
Among the movement’s leaders was the social reformer Keshav Sitaram “Prabodhankar” Thackeray, the father of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray. The senior Thackeray ran a fortnightly magazine called ‘Prabodhan’, which was a platform for criticising social evils.
The Shiv Sena and its Dussehra rally
In 1966, Bal Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena, the party then driven by anti-South Indian and anti-communist rhetoric.
Thackeray addressed his first rally at Shivaji Park, and started holding gatherings on Dussehra day every year.
Situated in Dadar, which was largely inhabited by Maharashtrians, the ground became instrumental in attracting the support of local masses. Large crowds would turn up to see the firebrand leader, and his speech on this day assumed significance as it would set the party line.
In 2010, when the Bombay High Court directed the Mumbai civic body to notify Shivaji Park as a silent zone, Thackeray hit out at the order in an editorial piece in the Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamana’. The court subsequently allowed the annual gathering.
More than five decades later, the Dussehra rally tradition still continues, with Thackeray’s son and successor Uddhav addressing it.
The Sena headquarters — Sena Bhawan — is located nearby, and Bal Thackeray lived in the Park’s vicinity for several years. MNS chief Raj Thackeray remains a resident of the precinct.
Bal Thackeray’s death
Thackeray died in 2012 at age 86 of cardiac arrest. The Park has a ‘Smriti Sthal’ dedicated to him, and in 2018 the BMC handed over the Mumbai mayor’s bungalow (opposite the ground on Veer Savarkar Marg) to a trust for housing a larger memorial.
There have also been demands to rename the ground has “Shiv Tirth”.
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