While Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at his party’s Dussehra rally in Mumbai, Maharashtra Chief Minister and rebel Sena leader Eknath Shinde chose to attack Uddhav at his faction’s rally held on the occasion in a different part of the city.
The two grand Mumbai rallies on Wednesday evening turned into a contest between Uddhav and Shinde to claim the legacy of Shiv Sena founder late Bal Thackeray, with each one marked by a large gathering of saffron-clad Sena activists, where speakers aggressively took on the rival faction while making their respective claims of being the “true flag-bearers of Hindutva”.
From a stage whose backdrop was framed by images of Bal Thackeray and Shinde’s political guru late Anand Dighe along with a slogan stating “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain (Proudly say that we are Hindus)”, the CM, whose camp has staked claim on the Sena’s election symbol, bow and arrow, before the Election Commission of India (ECI) while projecting itself as the “real” Sena, addressed his Dussehra rally at the Bandra Kurla Complex’s MMRDA ground. A special empty chair was kept in the middle of the stage, symbolically honouring Bal Thackeray.
For Uddhav, his party’s annual Dussehra rally was a congregation of “eknishtha (loyal)” workers. At the packed rally venue in Shivaji Park, he called the Shinde camp “parasites” that grew on trees’ branches. “Branches may fall, but the tree survives on roots and you (workers) are Sena’s roots,” he told the rally, adding that he will again help the Sena clinch the CM post if backed by party workers.
Even as Uddhav referred to Shinde as a “contractual CM” and raked up his “betrayal”, the former’s larger target remained the BJP. In his 40-minute-long speech, Uddhav countered the BJP’s charge against him of “ditching Hindutva” to align with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) by referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent visit to a madrasa in Delhi. He questioned if this attempt to initiate a conversation with the other side is acceptable then what was wrong with his aligning with the Congress. He also raised the issue of remission granted to the Bilkis Bano case convicts who were also feted after their release from prison. “Is this the example of woman empowerment you are talking about?” he asked.
By going after the BJP, Uddhav also sent out a political message that he could be a part of a larger anti-BJP front that may take shape ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP is going to be the main opponent of the Uddhav Sena in the upcoming Mumbai civic body polls. Uddhav’s bid to challenge Union Home minister Amit Shah and his attempt to make a distinction between the Hindutva propagated by both the parties is being seen as a clear sign that he is ready to lock horns with the BJP in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls.
Shinde, on the other hand, chose to reply in his 90-minute long speech to every criticism made against him by Uddhav. The CM also sought to rise to the defence of the BJP and RSS leadership, which might give the handle to the Uddhav Sena to sharpen its allegation that he was “dancing to the BJP’s tunes”.
The CM also tried to connect emotionally with his supporters by explaining how he toiled hard for the party and is an ardent follower of Bal Thackeray’s Hindutva. By restraining himself from making personal attacks on the Thackeray family, he seemed to have hoped to earn sympathy of the common Sena workers.
Earlier in the day, in an apparent swipe at Uddhav, who has maintained that he being the son of Bal Thackeray is the true inheritor of his legacy, Shinde posted a tweet with a quote of noted Hindi writer Harivanshrai Bachchan, stating “My son, being a son will not be my heir, whoever will be my heir will be my son”. Shinde’s appeal to common Sena workers and his repeated claims that the Sena was not a “private limited company” was aimed at legitimising his rebellion against the Thackerays as he projected himself as the “true heir” of Bal Thackeray’s ideology.