Presenting estranged alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party with a challenge on the latter’s Hindutva agenda, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday declared his intention to visit Ayodhya next month and belittled the BJP for not building a Ram temple there, despite its promise to do so.
“I will go to Ayodhya on November 25 and ask questions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue. You keep touring the world but you haven’t visited Ayodhya once in the past four years. If you are not going to build a Ram temple there, then concede that it was only election jumla. We will then build it along with the Hindus,” Uddhav said while addressing the party’s annual Dussehra gathering in Shivaji Park, central Mumbai, on Thursday. “If you are not able to build a Ram temple, then there is a problem with the DNA of the NDA,” he said.
While other senior leaders who addressed the crowd of about 80,000 before Thackeray announced that the party would henceforth contest elections on its own and not as a constituent of the NDA, the Sena president chose not to make any explicit reference to the fate of the alliance with the BJP. “How many times should I announce this?” was all Uddhav said on the matter, an apparent reference to his previous declaration that the Sena will now contest solo.
It being the last Dussehra rally before next year’s Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Legislative Assembly polls, party workers were anticipating clear directions about the future of the alliance. At the party’s national executive meet held this January, the Shiv Sena passed a resolution announcing that it will contest all elections independently. In June, however, amid worsening relations between the BJP and the Sena, BJP chief Amit Shah held an unexpectedly long meeting with the Sena chief that was seen as an attempt to mollify the junior partner.
On Thursday, Uddhav chose to play the election card close to his chest, instead throwing the gauntlet at the BJP on Hindutva. Congratulating the RSS chief for what he called an endorsement of the Sena’s view that the Union government should issue an ordinance to build the temple in Ayodhya, Uddhav said: “We are repeatedly asked about our opposition to the government, despite sharing power. But now, the RSS has also started speaking like the Sena. Then why don’t you ask the RSS to replace these people?” asked the Sena president.
Uddhav also spoke about water scarcity in parts of the state, including Marathwada, and said the government must declare drought immediately. “The Karnataka government announced drought using the old norms. Then why is this not being announced in Maharashtra, despite the BJP being in power at the Centre and the state? Immediate arrangements for fodder and water should be made. Otherwise, we will hit the streets in protest,” he said.
He spoke briefly on the #MeToo movement that has gained strength in the country. The guilty in these cases should be expeditiously punished, he said.
In his 45-minute speech, the Sena president attacked the BJP repeatedly over various promises the party had made that have not been fulfilled. Referring to Union minister Nitin Gadkari’s comment that several promises were made because the leaders were certain they would not come to power, Uddhav said: “I call this shamelessness. If you are outspoken on the issue, then tell Modi about the promises made to the people.” He also slammed the BJP on inflation and the rising fuel prices.
At the 2016 Dussehra rally, Uddhav had referred to statements by a few BJP leaders and then dared the BJP to break the alliance for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation polls in 2017.
In last year’s Dussehra rally, Uddhav had asked the Union government to concentrate on basic infrastructure for Mumbai, instead of the grand plan of a Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train.