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Uddhav’s BMC poll pitch on Dussehra: Forget Marathi vs non-Marathi, BJP ‘endangering Hindutva’

Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray says ‘those who climbed the ladder to power with Hindutva are now using the British policy of divide and rule’.

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Mumbai: Showcasing the Shiv Sena’s work in Mumbai’s civic body, invoking the party’s role in “keeping Hindus safe” during the 1992-93 riots in the city, appealing to party workers not to discriminate between Marathis and non-Marathis and unite under the Hindutva banner, and slamming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “endangering Hindutva” by using a “divide-and-rule” policy. 

This is how Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray used his annual Dussehra rally to set the tone for his party’s campaign in next year’s polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), his party’s bastion for over two decades and from where the Shiv Sena draws most of its strength. 

“Hindutva is in danger, not from outsiders, but from those who are the custodians of the supposed new Hindutva,” Thackeray said in a veiled attack at the BJP. 

“Those who climbed the ladder to power with Hindutva are now using the British policy of divide and rule, while they sit at the top and enjoy the carrots of power,” he said, adding that Shiv Sena’s Hindutva is “nationalistic”. 

During the turbulent 1990s when Hindutva was “really in danger”, at the time of the 1992-93 riots, the CM said only his father and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had “stood up to the enemies”. 

“He got several threats, but he had no care. Who else had such grit? Those who say they were there during the Babri Masjid demolition were hiding in their holes,” Uddhav Thackeray added.

Referring to the many probes by central agencies against Shiv Sena leaders and their family members, Thackeray almost took the BJP head-on, adding, “We had saved Mumbai then. Is the same Shiv Sena now corrupt? The Shiv Sena is not born to help your (BJP) party. It is born to help our country, our religion.”

The Shiv Sena’s Dussehra rally has been the party’s tradition since 1966, and is usually held at the Shivaji Park in Dadar, a Mumbai landmark. However, the venue was moved to the Shanmukhanand Auditorium in Sion, keeping seating arrangements and Covid-19 protocols in mind. 

This year’s rally also started differently. Instead of the usual lineup of multiple speeches by different Shiv Sena leaders ahead of Uddhav Thackeray’s address, the event started with a video presentation of the Shiv Sena’s work in the BMC across different sectors over the past five years. 

Also read: ‘Many ups and downs in 2 years’: Pankaja Munde sets tone for Dussehra rally with FB message

‘Mamata and Bengal fulfilled their duty’ 

The Maharashtra CM praised West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, saying she and her state had “fulfilled their duty”, and if need be, Maharashtra too should be ready to show the power of the ‘Har har Mahadev’ (Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji’s war cry) to the seat of power in Delhi.

“Are you ready like Bengal was? Don’t discriminate on the basis of Marathi and non-Marathi. Work towards growing Hindutva,” Thackeray said, addressing the Shiv Sena cadre. 

The Shiv Sena grew stronger in Mumbai through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, largely on the party’s ‘sons of the soil’ agenda. However, with Mumbai’s demographics having undergone a sea change since then, the ‘Marathi manoos’ issue only gets the Shiv Sena so far, especially with the BJP looking to lap up non-Marathi Hindutva votes, while also trying to chip away at the Shiv Sena’s traditional voter base. 

In the 2017 Mumbai civic polls, the BJP had come close to snatching the reins of the BMC from the Shiv Sena, ending up with a tally of 82 to the Sena’s 84, out of a total of 227 seats. 

The Shiv Sena eventually bolstered its strength in the BMC by getting independents to align with it, and corporators of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which is helmed by Uddhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray, to defect

Read and sit quietly’

In Friday’s rally, Uddhav Thackeray borrowed the title of a famous column published by his father Bal Thackeray in the latter’s periodical Marmik. The column, ‘Vacha ani thanda basa,’ (read and sit quietly) was a list of names of all non-Marathi persons who had plum jobs in Mumbai, and was meant as a sarcastic take on the issue of locals being allegedly passed over. 

Thackeray drew on the famous line to talk about how the Union government under the BJP is brazenly “favouring only those states that are with the party”, and that Maharashtra is being “defamed”. 

“I am a CM. I am Hindutvawadi. But Shiv Sainiks have an upbringing of equality, Hindutva. As a person in power, the whole country is mine. You can’t say I’ll favour these few states because these are mine,” Thackeray said. He displayed documents, which he claimed were obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, that showed Union Minister of Ports and Shipping Sarbananda Sonowal had issued orders to divert certain funds to Gujarat. 

He also spoke about how Maharashtra is being tagged with constant news stories of drug seizures when 3,000 kg of heroin was seized at Gujarat’s Mundra port. 

Indirectly referring to the Narcotics Control Bureau’s recent raid on an alleged rave party in a Goa-bound cruise ship, in which it arrested actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan, Thackeray said: “The Mumbai Police has also made large drug seizures, but you are after a pinch of ganja. Just arrest a celebrity, beat drums, take pictures. My police are making raids and seizures, but no one talks about them, because they have now become the mafia according to them.”

He added: “Why are you defaming Maharashtra? Like a jilted lover throws acid at his girlfriend after rejection, because Maharashtra rejected you, you are throwing acid at it.” 

Complaining of the Centre’s constant interference in state matters, the Maharashtra CM also called for a parliamentary discussion on the rights of states versus those of the Centre. 

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also read: Why BJP is losing grip on Nagpur, Congress is clawing back lost ground in former stronghold

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