Mumbai: At his first Shiv Sena Dussehra rally as the chief leader of his faction, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde pulled out all the stops to show the legitimacy of his faction, ensuring that the venue was packed to the brim and that he has the backing of a large part of the Thackeray parivar with Bal Thackeray’s son and Uddhav Thackeray’s estranged brother, Jaidev Thackeray seated next to him.
The Shinde group organised its rally at the Bandra Kurla Complex grounds around the same time as Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s traditional rally at the landmark Shivaji Park in Dadar.
After the traditional shastra pooja (ceremonial worship of weapons), Shinde sat on the stage next to Jaidev Thackeray. Moreover, seated on VIP seats in the audience were Smita Thackeray, Jaidev’s former wife, and Bal Thackeray’s grandson Nihar Thackeray. Nihar Thackeray is the son of Bindumadhav Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s eldest son, who died in a road accident in 1996.
Addressing the gathering, CM Shinde said, “Where is the real Shiv Sena? This crowd has given the answer to this question to the entire nation. Where is the successor of Bal Thackeray’s ideology? Nobody will ask this question again. This crowd has given the answer.”
Addressing the gathering, Jaidev Thackeray said, “Eknath is among my favourites… People have been calling me for 5-6 days asking if I have joined the Shinde group. This Thackeray can’t be tied to anyone, but I like the stand that Eknath has taken and Maharashtra needs someone like him, so I have come here out of love for him.”
Shinde led a rebellion of Shiv Sena MLAs in June causing the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to fall. Claiming to be the real Shiv Sena, Shinde then formed a government in the state with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The dispute between the Shinde faction and Thackeray-led Shiv Sena over who gets the claim to the party and it’s symbol is with the Election Commission.
“Don’t isolate Eknathrao”
Jaidev Thackeray heaped praises on CM Shinde calling him “kashtakari (hardworking) like a farmer,” and appealed to his supporters gathered at the Bandra Kurla Complex grounds to never isolate him.
“Don’t isolate him. Let him be Eknath not Ekta (alone) nath is my request to you all. The work that Eknathrao is doing for the poor, for the farmers,” Jaidev Thackeray said.
“I am saying that dismantle everything, hold elections again, and elect a Shinde government. My good wishes are always with him,” he added.
Smita Thackeray, who was known to have her father-in-law Bal Thackeray’s ear in the 1990s, accepted Shinde’s invitation to attend his Dussehra rally and sat with Nihar Thackeray in the audience.
In July, Smita and Nihar had both separately met CM Shinde. While Smita Thackeray had called it a courtesy visit, Nihar Thackeray extended his support
to the Shinde group.
CM Shinde peppered his speeches with references to how Smita Thackeray and Nihar Thackeray were sitting in the audience. Speaking at the rally, he said, “Nihar is sitting here, Smita vahini is sitting here. So who is wrong? All of us are wrong and only you are right? Will you ever introspect? You (Uddhav Thackeray) will say that the sun rises in the west and we should listen? Eknath Shinde never did this.”
Contributing to the optics of Shinde’s rally was the presence of Champa Singh Thapa
near the CM when he paid obeisance to Bal Thackeray’s portrait and performed the ‘shastra pooja’.
Thapa was Bal Thackeray’s closest personal staff for three decades and was referred to as his shadow. Last month, Thapa formally joined the Shinde group in Thane, citing Bal Thackeray’s ideology.
In his speech, Shinde said, “All members of the family called me and lauded me for taking a stand. This Thapa who stood behind Balasaheb like his shadow, he left you. He also didn’t stay with you, and you made fun of him calling him a sweeper, bathroom cleaner. What does one say?”
Shinde’s rally also had a grand ornamental chair, which Bal Thackeray had supposedly sat on when he delivered his last speech in Thane. The first thing that Shinde did after he reached the venue was offer flowers and bow down to the chair with Thapa standing next to him, much like how he used to stand next to Bal Thackeray.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)