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Stage set for two Shiv Sena Dussehra rallies for second time in two years in Maharashtra

Mumbai: On June 19, 1966, the late cartoonist and politician Balasaheb Thackeray founded Shiv Sena for the larger cause of welfare and interests of the Marathi ‘manoos’.

On October 23, 1966, Marmik, a cartoon-centric magazine edited by Balasaheb, published a note announcing a rally at Shivaji Park at 5:30 pm on October 30 to observe Dussehra.

As announced, the rally was held at Shivaji Park – which the Shiv Sainiks call ‘Shivtirth’ – and Balasaheb, an orator-par-excellence, addressed it.

The Shivaji Park is also very important for the Hindutva movement – when Balsaheb took up the cause of Hindus and the Ram temple.

Since then, the Dussehra rally has been one of the most important events for the Shiv Sainiks and they have always attended it to hear Balasaheb and now his son Uddhav Thackeray.

Balasaheb’s address at the rally has been an unbroken record except for two occasions – in 2006 when due to the heavy rains and slush, the rally was not possible and in 2009 because of Vidhan Sabha polls.

A day after Balasaheb passed away on November 17, 2012, his last rites were performed at Shivaji Park.

After his death, Uddhav has been addressing the rallies from Shivaji Park.

In 2020, Uddhav addressed the rally virtually while in 2021, it was held at the Shanmukhananda Hall at King’s Circle, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown and restrictions.

However, a one-time aide of late Balasaheb and Uddhav – Eknath Shinde led the rebellion in the saffron party on June 20, 2022, which led to the split in the Shiv Sena.

With the help of BJP, Shinde not only toppled the Uddhav-headed Maha Vikas Aghadi government but became the Chief Minister of Maharashtra on October 30, 2022 with BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as the Deputy Chief Minister.

On October 5, 2022, while Uddhav, the now head of Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) addressed from Shivaji Park, Shinde addressed from the MMRDA Ground at Bandra Kurla Complex.

This time too, Uddhav is set to address from Shivaji Park and Shinde from the Azad Maidan.

In fact, both Shivaji Park and Azad Maidan have historical importance.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Park – also a breeding ground of cricketers – is very important in the history of Shiv Sena. It was built in 1925 and was known for its political rallies.

In fact, Shiv Sena leaders also made a pitch to have a memorial. Besides being a venue for gatherings of freedom fighters in British India, after independence in 1947, the Shivaji Park was the focal point of the Samyukta Maharashtra Chalval that led to the present Maharashtra state being formed in 1960. Several top leaders of political parties have addressed rallies and meetings from here. The inner circumference of the park is 1.17 kilometres, 1,12,937 square metres in area.

The Mayor’s bungalow is just opposite Shivaji Park – where a memorial dedicated to Balasaheb is coming up.

When the first Shiv Sena-BJP saffron alliance government came to power in 1995, Dr Manohar Joshi was sworn in as the Chief Minister in this venue. In 2019 as well, Uddhav was sworn in as Chief Minister from the Maha Vikas Aghadi government at the venue- which comprised of Shiv Sena, Sharad Pawar-led NCP and Congress.

On the other hand, the Azad Maidan just opposite the majestic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus has relevance dating back to the early 19th century.

During the days of the freedom struggle, massive protest rallies were organised by leaders and freedom fighters at the sprawling maidan, thus giving it its name. On one side of the maidan is the Bombay Gymkhana and on the other side the headquarters of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation. Azad Maidan too has several practice pitches though in one of its edges the underground Mumbai Metro line is coming up.

For Shiv Sena, things have changed and so has the political course in Maharashtra.

On February 17, 2023, the Election Commission legitimised Shinde-faction as real Shiv Sena and allotted the bow and arrow symbol and on May 11, the Supreme Court observed that Thackeray’s position as Chief Minister cannot be restored as he had resigned before the floor test.

On July 2, 2023, there was rebellion in NCP and Ajit Pawar walked out of MVA and joined the NDA camp to become Deputy Chief Minister alongside Fadnavis.

The two groups/factions of Shiv Sena are now on two sides of political spectrum – while Uddhav is a key player of the opposition I.N.D.I.A bloc, Shinde is with BJP-led NDA.

(Published 23 October 2023, 04:11 IST)

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