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Aarti on Sarayu banks & Ayodhya show of strength — How Sena plans to show ‘Aaditya has arrived’

Aaditya’s solo trip to Ayodhya Wednesday is significant since it marks a coming-of-age moment for the young Thackeray beginning to step out from the shadow of his father Uddhav.

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Mumbai: An aarti [ceremonial prayers] on the banks of River Sarayu, trains and buses booked for Shiv Sainiks to arrive from all over Maharashtra, and a grand show of strength by party workers — Shiv Sena scion Aditya Thackeray’s first solo visit to Ayodhya has been planned down to the last minute.

The 32-year-old will be visiting the Uttar Pradesh city Wednesday without his father, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

This one-day trip is a crucial one for the young Thackeray and the Shiv Sena alike since the objective is to project him as more than just a ‘Thackeray scion’, and as a leader moving out from under his father’s shadow — one who will be carrying forward the Shiv Sena’s legacy on his own, said party sources.

A senior Shiv Sena functionary, who wished to not be named, told ThePrint, “This is Aaditya saheb’s first trip by himself. He had visited Ayodhya earlier, but that time Uddhav saheb was in the lead. Whenever Shiv Sena leaders go outside the state, our karyakartas [party workers] follow, but this time there’s so much more enthusiasm among the cadre.”

“When Aaditya saheb goes to Ayodhya, the number of Shiv Sainiks present there will be much higher than even when Uddhav saheb undertakes such visits,” he added.

Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit comes at a time when the Shiv Sena is locked in a tug of war with ally-turned-rival BJP over whose commitment to Hindutva is stronger.

Moreover, the Shiv Sena declared Aaditya’s visit to Ayodhya after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray said he planned on visiting the holy town, the site of the upcoming Ram temple, in June.

The MNS president, however, called off his tour citing health reasons after a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh strongly objected to his visit due to the MNS’ larger anti-North Indians stand.

The Shiv Sena functionary quoted above said “we are not going to Ayodhya to justify our Hindutva to anyone”, adding that Aaditya’s visit had been in the works for six months, but for some reason or the other, the date could not be finalised earlier.

According to Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande, the visit has nothing to do with the BJP’s attacks on Shiv Sena over Hindutva. “Shiv Sena has never used Lord Ram for political reasons. This is simply a pilgrimage. It is also his birthday today [13 June], so he wanted to go. Our Hindutva is not about showing off,” she said.

Speaking to ThePrint, political commentator Abhay Deshpande said: “Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit is especially significant as the Shiv Sena has been trying to strike a balance between its new more liberal ideology and its staunch commitment to Hindutva.”

Also read: In 2 yrs, Aaditya Thackeray brought glamour to low-key departments, but remains in dad’s shadow

Strength in numbers

Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut left for Uttar Pradesh Monday to prepare for Aaditya Thackeray’s visit.

Speaking to reporters in Lucknow, Raut said, “A team from Nashik has also come for preparations. As have we [from Mumbai]. Thousands of Shiv Sainiks are expected to come from Nashik, Thane, Mumbai and other places. We have booked trains, flights. Few buses would have already left.”

According to party sources, the Shiv Sena has booked two whole trains from Mumbai, each accommodating about 1,700 to 1,800 party members, while a lot more have already left in buses. About 8,000 party workers are expected to go to Ayodhya from Mumbai and Thane alone.

However, none of Shiv Sena’s 55 MLAs will go, considering elections to 10 Maharashtra Legislative Council seats are scheduled to be held on 20 June.

“But this is not a show of strength,” Raut insisted, implying that the visit was not politically motivated.

Another Shiv Sena functionary told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that the date was finalised for Wednesday since Aaditya had also received an invitation from the ISKCON temple there.

Also read: In battleground UP, Aaditya Thackeray lays out 2024 agenda & road map for Shiv Sena expansion

Coming out of his comfort zone’

Aaditya Thackeray formally entered politics in 2010 when Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray handed him a symbolic sword at the party’s annual Dussehra rally, launching his grandson as president of the Yuva Sena.

His clout in the party grew phenomenally in the following decade with a lot of the Shiv Sena’s liberal politics becoming associated with Aaditya’s attempt to attract young votes. He got the Shiv Sena to drop its aggressive Valentine’s Day protests, spoke about Mumbai’s nightlife, open spaces, and sporting facilities, and so on.

Abhay Deshpande feels Aaditya Thackeray is gradually “coming out of his comfort zone”, and taking charge of the party’s affairs from the front.

“Aaditya Thackeray was instrumental in handling preparations for the Rajya Sabha elections. He is overseeing the Mumbai civic body’s affairs, which was earlier done by his father. He is also likely to lead the campaign for the municipal corporation elections later this year,” Deshpande said.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Shiv Sena-led BMC unveils record budget in poll year, with an ‘Aaditya Thackeray’ imprint


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