In a first for the 56-year-old Shiv Sena, two Dussehra rallies will be held in Mumbai on Wednesday (October 5), as it prepares for a show of strength with its first such mass event since the vertical split in the party in June this year.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena is preparing to hold its rally at Shivaji Park, where they have been held every year since 1996, except for the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s faction will hold its rally at the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) grounds in the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC).
This year’s Dussehra rally is not only a chance for the two factions, each claiming to be the ‘real’ Shiv Sena, to show their strength and support. The Dussehra rally has been an integral aspect of the party’s outreach strategy, and has an almost sacrosanct place in the annual traditions of the party since it was founded in 1966. We explain why.
Every year, on the occasion of Dussehra – the tenth day after the nine-day long Navratri festival, also called Vijayadashmi, meaning the day of victory – the Shiv Sena holds a Melava (gathering) at Shivaji Park grounds near Dadar in Central Mumbai. Sena leaders, party workers and supporters from across Maharashtra travel to Mumbai annually to attend the rally.
What is its significance?
The Shiv Sena’s first Dussehra rally was organised on October 30, 1966 at Shivaji Park, around four months after the party was founded on June 19, 1966. It was addressed by the Sena founder Bal Thackeray. His father, Prabodhankar Thackeray also spoke at the rally, and said, “I am offering my son to the service of Maharashtra”, according to Subhash Desai, senior Sena leader, who was present at the first rally.
The rally in 1966 played a crucial role in establishing the Shiv Sena and shaped the party’s future in Mumbai and Maharashtra as a whole, and its success made it an annual tradition for the party.
The Dussehra rally also marked many milestones for the Sena through the years, such as in 2010, when it launched the youth wing – the Yuva Sena on October 17, under the leadership of then 20-year-old Aaditya Thackeray, grandson of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray. In 2019, Aaditya Thackeray became the first Thackeray to contest an election, and is now an MLA from the Worli assembly constituency.
Shiv Sena has held the Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park every year except in 2020, when it was conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, and in 2021, when it was held in Shanmukhanand hall in Sion, to limit the crowd during the pandemic, even though some restrictions had been lifted by the state government.
Shivaji Park is also referred to as Shivteerth by Shiv Sainiks and Bal Thackeray was cremated at Shivaji Park in 2012 with full state honours. This is also where Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray took his oath as Chief Minister in 2019.
In 1966, the venue was selected for the first Dussehra rally by Bal Thackeray himself, against the advice of seniors around him, who wanted the rally to be held in a closed hall as it was the first time for the organisation.
Why is this year’s Dussehra rally important for the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena?
Both the Shiv Sena factions – one led by Uddhav Thackeray and the other by CM Eknath Shinde applied to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in August this year for permission to hold the Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park.
On August 22, Anil Desai, MP from the Uddhav Thackeray led Shiv Sena faction led by Uddhav Thackeray and the party’s secretary, sought the BMC’s permission to hold its Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park; and on August 30, MLA Sada Sarvankar, from Eknath Shinde’s camp also applied for permission to hold a Shiv Sena Dussehra rally at the same grounds.
On September 21, BMC refused to give permission to both factions, citing intimation from the police about law and order concerns.
The Shiv Sena had then approached the Bombay High Court. The Thackeray group on September 23 told a bench headed by Justice Ramesh D Dhanuka of the Bombay High Court that the Dussehra rally has been one of the most important annual events for the Sena since it was founded in 1966 and the Shivaji Park ground or Shivteerth, has been its traditional venue, with a few exceptions, for all these years and getting permissions was “matter of convention.”
The court then directed BMC to allow Uddhav Thackeray led Shiv Sena to hold the rally at Shivaji Park.