As the Shiv Sena gathered at Shivaji Park to remember founder Bal Thackeray on his seventh death anniversary on Sunday, among those present were leaders from the NCP and Congress, underlining the changing political equations in Maharashtra.
BJP leaders Vinod Tawde and Pankaja Munde also turned up, and waited to receive former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. From the Sena side, party secretary Milind Narvekar was the only leader around to greet Fadnavis, whose hopes of returning to power have been thwarted by the Sena.
As Fadnavis was leaving, the Shiv Sainiks present heckled him with the slogan: “There will be a Shiv Sena CM.”
Through the day, the Sena and BJP took digs at each other. Fadnavis released a video in the morning saying “Balasaheb taught us the importance of self-respect”. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut hit back saying nobody should teach the Sena anything. “We are Balasaheb’s Shiv Sainiks. No one should try and teach us anything. We have to fulfill Balasaheb’s dreams and the promise that Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has made to him of installing a Sena CM. The promise will be fulfilled… The next CM will be from the Shiv Sena and he will come to Shivaji Park,” Raut told mediapersons.
Show of strength
Bal Thackeray’s death anniversary provided the Sena a chance to put up a show of strength. While it claimed more party members turned up sensing a Sena CM soon, it would have also been delighted that all three Maharashtra players marked their presence — the NCP, Congress and BJP — as well as the forlorn Devendra Fadnavis.
While last year, senior BJP leaders Piyush Goyal and Suresh Prabhu had come to pay respects to Thackeray, this time there were only state leaders. Even among the Congress, senior leaders stayed away. Among those who paid tributes on social media were NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Union minister Nitin Gadkari.
The Sena claimed the event had drawn larger numbers than last year, “because of the possibility that there might soon be a Sena CM”.
At Shivaji Park, near where Thackeray was cremated, a rangoli had been made with images of him and Lord Ram, with a message of ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
Senior NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal and NCP state president Jayant Patil were the first to reach Shivaji Park. Patil said, “This is not for the first time we went to pay respects. We have attended in the past as well.”
The Thackeray family was present in strength, including Uddhav, wife Rashmi and sons Aaditya and Tejas.