Updated: June 15, 2022 6:56:11 pm
Aaditya Thackeray’s Wednesday visit to Ayodhya to offer prayers at the Ram Temple is principally meant to convey a political message to the Shiv Sena leaders and its rank and file in the run-up to the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls.
Aaditya, the 31-year-old son of the Maharashtra Chief Minister and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, is the state environment, tourism and protocol minister as well as the chief of Yuva Sena, the party’s youth wing.
There seems to be a two-fold political objective behind Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit. First, it clearly signals that he is going to spearhead the Sena’s campaign in the upcoming BMC polls. The electoral fight for the country’s richest civic body with a budget of over Rs 40,000 crore, BMC, which the Sena has been ruling for many years, will be a litmus test for the ruling party.
Secondly, besides seeking to showcase the Sena’s Hindutva credentials, the party leadership has taken a decision to move beyond its “Marathi Manoos” agenda within Maharashtra to reach out to North Indians, who make up about 20 per cent population of Mumbai.
Officially, however, the Sena has been trying to downplay the politics behind Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit, maintaining that the “sole objective of his day-long visit to the temple town is religious”.
The Sena’s rival, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), headed by Uddhav’s estranged cousin Raj Thackeray, however asks “if Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit is not political why are Sena leaders hurling barbs and taunts at Raj”. MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande said, “Why are they (Sena) saying it requires courage to visit Ayodhya. And they are not backtracking from such remarks. If their purpose was religious it should have ended on a religious note.”
The Sena finalised Aaditya’s Ayodhya tour after Raj announced his decision to visit Ayodhya’s Ram Temple on June 5. The Sena scheduled Aaditya’s trip to Ayodhya for June 10, which was later rescheduled for June 15.
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) June 15, 2022
Subsequently, Raj, however, cancelled his Ayodhya visit 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 him 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.
Raj’s recent bids 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, led to 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 Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the sate.
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 thereby sought to woo North Indians too, whose vote it considers to be critical in its bid to clinch it again.
Going after the MNS, the Sena had recently also put up posters across Maharashtra to point to a “distinction between the Sena’s real Hindutva and MNS’s fake Hindutva”.
Senior Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who had led a team of party leaders to Ayodhya earlier to oversee arrangements for Aaditya’s visit, has sought to brush aside the politics behind it, saying “Our faith in Lord Ram Temple in Ayodhya is unquestionable. It is a religious tour. Don’t read politics in it.”
A senior Sena minister said, “Our core agendas remain unchanged. But when you are in government, priorities change. We are bound by a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) mutually agreed by the three MVA partners,” pointing out that any attempt to deviate from the CMP would cause trouble to their coalition government.
The Sena has also been seeking to highlight its role in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement for the construction of a temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. Last month, Uddhav Thackeray had taken potshots at the senior BJP leader and Leader of the Opposition, Devendra Fadnavis, over the latter’s claims that he was also part of the Ayodhya movement.
Fadnavis, however, again projected his role in the Ayodhya movement at a conclave of North Indians in Mumbai later.
On its part, the Sena plans to use the images of Aaditya worshipping at the under-construction Ram Temple and taking part in various rituals at the Sarayu river to sharpen its Hindutva pitch and boost its outreach to the people hailing from the Hindi heartland.
Seizing on the Aaditya’s tour, the Sena members have been harping on the point that “We showed courage in visiting Ayodhya”.
Hitting back, Deshpande asked, “What is so courageous about the Ayodhya visit?” He also alleged that the Sena along with the NCP had plotted to thwart Raj’s Ayodhya trip with the help of Brij Bhusan Sharan Singh.
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Ayodhya is not a new destination for Aaditya. He had earlier visited the temple town along with his father in November 2018 and March 2020. In November 2018, the Sena chief visited Ayodhya to reiterate the party’s commitment to the Ram Temple. Months after becoming the CM, in March 2020, Uddhav again visited Ayodhya, when he offered prayers and donated Rs one crore for construction of the temple.
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