The Shiv Sena faction led by former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray received a major boost when the Bombay High Court on Friday granted it permission to hold the annual Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park on Oct 5.
A division bench of Justices RD Dhanuka and Kamal Khata quashed the Sep 21 decision of the BMC to reject the applications by both factions of the party (the other led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde) as “not bona fide”.
The court allowed the Thackeray group to use Shivaji Park between Oct 2 and Oct 6 on condition that there will be no law-and-order problem in the area. The local police station has been granted "liberty to record the entire event”. The court said that “in the event there is any untoward behaviour, the same can be grounds for refusing permission next year”.
A relaxed Thackeray hailed the ruling and reiterated his faith in the judiciary. He exhorted Shiv Sainiks to make the rally a success by turning out in large numbers. He also urged them to exercise restraint.
“I request you all to come to the Dussehra rally with enthusiasm. Come with discipline and do not indulge in anything that will put a blot on the celebrations and on the party. Don’t know what others will do. The world is paying attention to the rally,” Thackeray said in his first reaction.
Expressing its displeasure with the BMC, the High Court said the civic body had failed to explain why it did not consider the applications filed by the two Sena factions from Aug 22 to Sep 21.
The Shinde-led faction had filed its application for permission at Shivaji Park on Aug 30. The Thackeray-led group had filed two applications on Aug 22 and 26. When it did not receive any reply, it moved the High Court on Sep 21.
Counsels for the Thackeray faction— Aspi Chenoy and Joel Carlos — told the court that as soon as the petition was filed and mentioned on Sep 21, a copy was served to the BMC.
BMC counsel Milind Sathe said the civic body asked for a report from the police in the morning on Sep 21. By evening, the report was submitted. It said there could be a law-and-order problem if either faction was permitted to use Shivaji Park.
That very day, the BMC committee had an internal meeting and rejected all three applications. Meanwhile, the Eknath Shinde faction, through its Dadar MLA Sada Sarvankar, filed an intervention application opposing the petition in the High Court.
The decision not to allow use of the ground was communicated to both factions in the morning on Sep 22.
Astonished by the speed with which the civic body moved after the petition was filed in court, the justices said: “The applications could not be decided for so long and the police report was called for after the writ petition was served. In our view the BMC's action is a clear process of abuse of law. In this case, the BMC has misused its power by refusing to grant permission in view of another application.”
Sarvankar’s counsel, Janak Dwarkadas, had opposed the petition on the grounds that a decision on which is the real Shiv Sena is pending before the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India. The court rejected that contention and pointed out that it was not deciding the larger issue.
The Dussehra rally is very important for the Thackeray faction as Uddhav, who has dared the BJP and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to hold the BMC and state assembly elections together, is expected to step up his attack on his erstwhile ally and on the Shinde camp.
Thackeray is also expected to spell out the party's revival strategy at the rally. He pointed out that he is no longer the state’s Chief Minister. “It is the responsibility of the state government to maintain law and order,” he said. “I believe the state government will fulfil its responsibility. Like today, I believe we will get justice from the Supreme Court as well in the next few days as its decision will also decide the future of democracy in the country.”
Bharat Gogawale, Shinde camp legislator and its chief whip in the Assembly, said the party respects the court order. “We accept the decision of the High Court,” he said. “We will hold our Dussehra rally at the BKC ground while they [the Thackeray faction] will hold their own rally.”
While Gogawale did not say anything about the Shinde camp moving a petition in the Supreme Court, some legislators said they had indications to that effect. Chief Minister Shinde will be the main speaker at the BKC rally.
“No reason to worry,” Gogawale said. “We have started our preparations. We don't want to debate, we want to present Balasaheb Thackeray's thoughts.” He also pointed out that the BKC ground is close to the late Sena founder’s residence Matoshree.
The NCP and the Congress, Uddhav Thackeray’s allies, also welcomed the court order. NCP veteran and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said, “Hindu Hriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray used to address the rally and it was continued by Uddhav Thackeray. The court has upheld the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena’s argument. The Shinde camp will hold its rally at BKC. I sincerely hope both camps show restraint.’’
Maharashtra Congress general secretary Sachin Sawant said, “The high court ruling is a slap in the face for the Shinde-Fadnavis government. It would be better for them to learn from the order that governance is not done by hate, hatred and revenge.”
Sena deputy leader Neelam Gorhe said, “We are deeply grateful for the decision by the court after hearing all sides. Never before were such law-and-order issues raised.”
"The court's decision is a tight slap on the opposite group. We were on the right path, so we won the battle. We will now celebrate the Dussehra rally with enthusiasm."
– Kishori Pednekar, former Mayor
"The court results prove that truth never fails. Shiv Sena has been arranging the Dussehra rally in Shivaji Park for the past many years. It is a victory of Shiv Sainiks."
– Ashish Chemburkar, Worli vibhag pramukh
"This is the first victory for the Shiv Sena and a lesson for the rebels. Just because they had powers they used them in the wrong way. Now they will know where they are."
– Milind Vaidya, former Mayor
"Once we get a copy of the High Court's decision, we will study it and decide our further course."
– Naresh Mhaske, Shinde group spokesperson
"We respect the court's order and accept it. The true Shiv Sainik who wants to hear Shiv Sena pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray's ideology will attend Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's rally."
– Sheetal Mhatre, former corporator