June 10, 2022 10:34:49 am
The Shiv Sena, which leads the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition in Maharashtra, has gone all out to ensure everything goes smoothly during Aaditya Thackeray’s June 15 visit to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Aaditya, the son of the Chief Minister and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, is the environment, tourism and protocol minister as well as the chief of Yuva Sena, the party’s youth wing.
Aaditya, 31, is visiting the Ram Temple in the pilgrimage town in the run-up to the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls. The Sena has been ruling the Mumbai civic body for many years, even as its ally-turned-arch rival, the BJP, the state’s principal Opposition, is mounting a formidable bid to challenge the party in the upcoming BMC elections.
The Sena has denied any politics in Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit, maintaining that its leaders and “sainiks (party members)” have often gone on a pilgrimage to the holy town in the past. The party has however made massive preparations to facilitate Aaditya’s trip. Sena MP Sanjay Raut and urban development minister Eknath Shinde recently visited the temple town to oversee these preparations. And on June 12, Sena leaders are again going to Ayodhya for this purpose to ensure Aaditya’s visit goes smoothly as per the plan.
Raut said, “Aaditya’s trip to Ayodhya is apolitical. It is purely a religious tour. There is no politics or agenda. Aaditya will offer prayers at the temple of Ram Lalla, perform Aarti at the banks of river Sarayu. Later, he will interact with the local media.”
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Yuva Sena leader Varun Sardesai is part of the party leaders’ team making arrangements for Aaditya’s Ayodhya tour. Apart from the Sena’s Mumbai unit, the party’s Nashik unit has also been roped in for these preparations.
Significantly, the Sena had announced Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit in April, shortly after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) declared its party chief Raj Thackeray’s Ram Temple visit.
Uddhav’s estranged cousin Raj’s bid to raise his pitch on Hindutva, seeking a ban on the use of loudspeakers for azaan at mosques, followed by announcement of his Ayodhya trip, set alarm bells ringing in the Sena. Encouraged by the BJP, the MNS has been making attempts to emerge as an alternative to the Sena, as they have attacked the latter for having gone “soft” on Hindutva after joining hands with the NCP and the Congress for formation of the MVA government in the sate.
Stung by Raj’s Hindutva moves backed by the BJP, the Sena sought to discredit the MNS, putting up posters across Maharashtra to highlight the differences between “Sena’s real and MNS’s fake Hindutva”. Going after Raj, Raut had then said, “The people of Uttar Pradesh are wise. They know who comes to Ayodhya with faith to offer prayers, and who comes with political agenda.” Hitting back, the MNS had rejected such allegations, claiming “Raj Thackeray never uses religion for politics.”
Last month, however, Raj cancelled his scheduled June 5 visit to Ayodhya on the ground that he would need a break for his medical treatment. This came days after the BJP’s UP strongman and MP, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, threatened to stop Raj from entering Ayodhya, demanding that the MNS chief should first tender an unconditional apology for his remarks and his workers’ alleged atrocities against North Indians in the past.
The Sena leadership clearly planned Aaditya’s Ayodhya tour to reaffirm the party’s Hindutva credentials and counter Raj’s Hindutva drive. Ahead of the BMC polls, it also sought to reach out to North Indians, who make up about 20 per cent voters in Mumbai. The ruling party reckons that the North Indian vote may prove to be critical in its bid to retain power in the BMC.
Ayodhya is however not a new destination for Aaditya. He had earlier visited the temple town along with his father twice — in November 2018 and March 2020. In November 2018, Uddhav visited Ayodhya to reiterate the Sena’s commitment to the Ram Temple. Months after becoming the CM, in March 2020, the Sena chief again visited Ayodhya, when he offered prayers and donated Rs one crore for construction of the temple there.
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