Prayagraj: On a mission to tell the “truth” from the “land of Chhatrapati Shivaji” to the “land of Shri Ram”, Shiv Sena’s youth face Aaditya Thackeray, 31, spent a day in Uttar Pradesh, where assembly elections are underway, this week.
Campaigning for his party’s candidate Arti Kol in Prayagraj’s Koraon constituency Thursday, Aaditya accused former Sena ally BJP of “spreading lies”.
Addressing a gathering largely comprising migrants’ families, he spoke of how the Maharashtra government, led by his father Uddhav Thackeray, set up camps to shelter migrants when the central government “did not agree” to send them back home by trains at the start of the pandemic.
The Sena leader also talked about the Maharashtra government’s feud with the Centre over arranging trains to ferry migrants to their home states, including UP and Bihar, in 2020. The central government had opposed arranging special trains over fears of the infection spreading wider.
“We too are bhagwa-dhaaris (saffron-clad), we are moving ahead with the blessings of Shri Ram, but I want to remind you what we witnessed during Covid times,” said Aaditya, who is the cabinet minister for tourism and environment in Maharashtra.
“Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray called the central government many times and informed them that our brothers and sisters from UP and Bihar need to go home to take blessings of their parents because the Covid situation had been worsening,” he added. “We had been requesting the government repeatedly but the Government of India did the most shameful thing by claiming that it was janta curfew and lockdown,” he added.
Aaditya claimed that the Maharashtra government had stood by UP’s migrants when the BJP-ruled Centre had not.
“We suggested that people be sent back home via trains as Covid spread was still not too grave [at the time]… but the government did not agree to this. And then so many people from UP, Bihar started walking homewards,” he said referring to the migrant exodus.
“Then the Maharashtra CM issued an appeal on television saying that the country is ours and no one should leave. We established over 500 camps across the state where our brothers and sisters from UP and Bihar stayed for three months… when the government of India didn’t, the Maharashtra government continued to stand with you,” he told the gathering.
The irony was hard to miss as the Shiv Sena, founded by late Bal Thackeray, was formed with a strong anti-migrant agenda, blaming north and south Indians alike for allegedly hogging plum jobs in Mumbai and depriving the “sons of the soil” of opportunities.
Koraon will vote on 27 February, in the fifth phase of the seven-phase UP assembly elections. The results will be announced on 10 March.
The Sena had fielded candidates on a 100 of the state’s 403 assembly seats, but this number trickled down to around 40 after several candidates’ nomination papers did not withstand scrutiny by returning officers.
The Sena faces stiff competition in the state, from the ruling BJP, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), the Congress, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and others. It fielded 57 candidates in the state in 2017, but none won. The party contested 31 seats in 2012, and lost all.
‘Dreams turned into jumlas, people want change’
Stressing that the Yogi Adityanath-led government in UP was merely indulging in “large-scale advertisement”, Aaditya said the BJP administration had only indulged in “jumlebaazi (witticism)”, while the people wanted “parivartan (change)”.
“Only jumlebaazi has happened in the last five years. Huge advertisements come in newspapers but there is an issue of unemployment here, female security… industries, hospitals and schools have not come here. I think people want parivartan (change) and that parivartan will happen this time,” he said as he accused the BJP of ruling like a “raja (king)” for five years.
“The lies being spread… by giving advertisements in the newspapers in the country and the world… these lies have to be stopped. Your dreams have been turned into jumlas… this has to be changed and it can only be done if we move ahead on the path of truth. And this path of truth starts from the land of Chhatrapati Shivaji to the land of Shri Ram,” he told the gathering.
‘BJP indulging in mud-slinging to divert national focus’
Responding to the BJP’s high-voltage attack on his party’s government in Maharashtra following the arrest of state cabinet minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Nawab Malik in an alleged money laundering case, Aaditya told ThePrint that the BJP is indulging in “mud-slinging” to “divert national focus from the simmering anger against their government in UP due to failure to fulfil its promises”.
He said Sena’s candidates in UP are contesting on local issues like unemployment and Covid mismanagement, which were “neglected” by the state government due to “its larger canvas of advertisements”.
“I see a simmering anger in the youth about the unemployment, Covid management and larger disillusionment felt against the current state government’s campaign plank in 2017,” said Thackeray.
Speaking to the media after his ‘jansabha’ at Koraon, he also remarked that whenever an election approaches, all central agencies “start working for the BJP”.
Maharashtra cabinet minister Eknath Shinde, who accompanied Aaditya, also raked up unemployment, Covid mismanagement and “fake Hindutva” to target the BJP, with which the Sena had an alliance for three decades before they split in 2019.
The Sena leaders pitched the “Maharashtra model of governance” in UP.
‘Will contest next Lok Sabha polls in UP’
The Shiv Sena has started expanding aggressively since its alliance with the BJP splintered in 2019. The party has also said it will also field candidates from UP in the 2024 general elections.
Aaditya, who is the party’s face for national expansion, confirmed to ThePrint that the Shiv Sena will contest seats in UP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut had earlier this month stated that SP chief Akhilesh Yadav was going to form the government in UP, days after he ruled out any direct alliance with the party.
Asked if the Sena planned to extend support to Akhilesh, Aaditya told ThePrint that the Sena was “currently focused on its own candidates and is committed to the welfare of the people, with an honest intent”.
The Thackeray scion also said that the Sena will contest elections in most states now.
“We did not contest in other states so as to maintain coalition dharma and not cut into our ally’s votes. However, after the breach of faith and coalition dharma, Shiv Sena followers from other states voiced that we must contest. We’ve been contesting [assembly elections outside Maharashtra] since 2015, and now will be contesting all elections in most states,” he added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)