It is for the first time that Mumbaikars will witness two rallies on the auspicious occasion of Dussehra, falling on October 5 this year, after it was kicked off for the first time by Shiv Sena supremo late Balasaheb Thackeray on October 30, 1966. The Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray has organised it at the Shivaji Park while Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, who has declared himself as the Shiv Sena leader, will hold it at the Bandra Kurla Complex with his maiden speech on the occasion. Though there will be two rallies at two separate locations, what is common is their claim over Hindu Hriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray’s legacy, and Hindutva. On top of it, both also claim to be Balasaheb’s “real” heirs.
For Uddhav, who is struggling to cope with the rebellion staged by Shinde and 39 others and the collapse of the party-led government thereafter, it will be an opportunity to reveal his revival plan and a strategy to regain past glory. However, for Shinde, who has joined hands with BJP, it will be his attempt to outline the roadmap pending the legal battle over the poll symbol ‘bow and arrow’ and the future of the alliance.
The timing of the rally is quite crucial, especially considering the upcoming elections to India’s richest civic body, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation. It is a Herculean task for Uddhav Thackeray to maintain the Shiv Sena’s supremacy, especially after the split, and taking on the might of the BJP with the Shinde camp.
As the late Balasaheb Thackeray, his undiluted Hindutva and roar against anti-nationals are points expected to be touched upon by Uddhav Thackeray as well as Shinde in their respective speeches, it will be interesting to recall some of the fiery speeches by Thackeray senior in Dussehra rallies. At his maiden rally, Balasaheb used the forum to reach out to the Marathi Manoos, declaring that had the Marathi Manoos been communal, parochial and narrow-minded, Mumbai would not have become cosmopolitan. He went on to add, “We all are Indians. We are not putting Chhatrapati Shivaji into the regionalism cover but with our name Shiv Sena we are expressing our admiration and faith in the great warrior.”
Thackeray senior also made a strong case for jobs for the Marathi Manoos in Maharashtra, and told the Congress and the party-led government not to teach them nationalism. In the successive speeches at Dussehra rallies, he strongly took up the cause of Marathi Manoos while leading blistering attacks against the Congress. His tirade against the Congress hogged the headlines. At one of the speeches, Thackeray amid applause and slogans took a swipe at the party saying, “Congress party has so many members who are eunuchs. All are busy bowing in front of Sonia Gandhi. The country will never see good days until this army of eunuchs which calls itself as Congress party is ruling over India.”
This apart, Thackeray spoke on the Shah Bano verdict, Ram Janmabhoomi agitation and rise of militancy in Kashmir. He attracted criticism for setting the anti-Muslim narrative. However, he repeatedly stated that he was not against Muslims per se but against those who indulge in anti-national activities posing a threat to India’s national security.
From 1989 onwards, especially after the Shiv Sena’s alliance with the BJP, Thackeray devoted his Dussehra speech largely to Hindutva. After declaring that Shiv Sainiks were at the forefront in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, he repeatedly said that the Sena and the BJP should not fight over seat arrangements but remain together on Hindutva which is the need of the hour. “I told BJP not to fight on seats, I told them last time when BJP lost the election, Shiv Sena will contest that seat. Let us form the government in Maharashtra by defeating the corrupt demon of Congress. You take the rest of India, leave Maharashtra for Shiv Sena. Sena always sacrifices as it is a firm view that India and Hindutva will not suffer. Our alliance with BJP is confirmed. Our fight is not for seats, we should not fight for that,” he had said. The saffron parties thereafter formed the government in 1995 but subsequently failed to retain power.
In the wake of defection by party legislators including Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and others, Thackeray had warned that it won’t be tolerated in future while exhorting Shiv Sainiks to teach rebels a lesson.
It is not just a coincidence that Uddhav and his son Aaditya are appealing to the Shiv Sainiks to defeat “gaddaar” (traitors), claiming that they have left the party because of the lust for power. However, Shinde counters the barb by claiming that Uddhav has committed treachery by compromising on the Hindutva thoughts of Balasaheb Thackeray and Anand Dighe and formed the government with avowed enemies NCP and Congress. Ultimately, Shiv Sena lost its moorings and became a compromised party.
However, Uddhav reiterates that their Hindutva is genuine, terming the Hindutva of the BJP and Shinde camp ‘’fake’’ and that it is being practised to gain power.
Against this backdrop, it will be interesting to see how the younger Thackeray wields the Hindutva and Marathi Manoos card; will he tread a solitary path or forge ahead with his new allies, the NCP and the Congress, to stay relevant? On the other hand, we will have to see how Shinde along with the BJP convinces voters that they are the real champions of Hindutva and Marathi Manoos. With Balasaheb as the common thread and “atma”, the upcoming rallies and subsequent actions will be crucial for both factions to stay afloat.
Sanjay Jog is Political Editor at The Free Press Journal