Mumbai waits with bated breath for rival Dussehra rallies of Shiv Sena factions

With a by-election due to the suburban Assembly seat of Andheri East and uncertainty about who or if anyone will get the bow and arrow poll symbol, it is important for both sides to make a good show

(left) Eknath Shinde; (right) Uddhav Thackeray
(left) Eknath Shinde; (right) Uddhav Thackeray

Sujata Anandan

In the heydays of the Shiv Sena, all that it needed to mobilise people in the thousands was a small notice in Marmik, Bal Thackeray's political-satirical cartoon magazine, seeking their presence at any particular place on any specified date.

Soon the information would spread by word of mouth and all Thackeray would have to do is drive to the spot and address the crowds. He had a way with words and over the years, Thackeray did not even need to notify his rallies in Marmik or later the Saamna. People would gather spontaneously on the appointed day (usually Vijaya Dashmi) quite on their own to hear him speak in his inimitable style.

Things have now vastly changed for the Shiv Sena. With emerging technology and new gadgets, attention spans are short and no one reads as they used to. Bal Thackeray's demagoguery is also a thing of the past and the party now has a more sober leadership. 

So, after a few false starts early in time, the Shiv Sena has got very tech-savvy and learnt not to rely on the readership of the Saamna for its social gatherings and political rallies. Starting from making use of audio tapes to incite crowds in the villages, it has now uploaded videos on social media to promote the Dussehra rally this year. It is a new phenomenon of teasers before a rally, in the style of pre-release film promos, introduced by both sides to try and cut each other down to size.

While the Uddhav Thackeray faction has been emphasising on the continuity of tradition, having been boosted by the Bombay High Court’s permission to hold their annual gathering at Shivaji Park, the Eknath Shinde faction of the party has been emphasising on saffron. 

Uddhav Thackeray's teaser stresses on “one leader, one flag, one field" (Shivaji Park), calling people to witness the Shiv Sena's “traditional and historical" gathering at Shivaji Park. 

Shinde's video, on the other hand, has appropriated the flag, election symbol of bow and arrow (even before the decision of the Election Commission) and the roaring tiger (which Uddhav Thackeray might want as his election symbol in case he loses the bow and arrow), and says, “The saffron flag of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the saffron flag of Shiv Sena and the saffron flag of Hindutva must keep fluttering in the sky." 

The video has been interspersed with Bal Thackeray’s voice and that of Anand Dighe, Shinde's political mentor.

The video war aimed at mobilising thousands of people for their respective rallies is giving the Mumbai police nightmares about a potential law and order situation in case of clashes, though there is a caveat from the Bombay High Court on both groups. They have been asked to maintain peace and the government has been told it will be held responsible in case of an adverse law and order situation developing.

While the Shivaji Park is the traditional venue for a Shiv Sena rally, in the heart of the Shiv Sena territory of central Mumbai, the MMRDA reclamation grounds in the Bandra-Kurla complex are in the backyard of Matoshree, the Thackeray residence; the rival rally being so close to his home must not be very comforting for Uddhav Thackeray.

While Mumbai police has taken all measures to regulate traffic and prevent clashes, the Uddhav Thackeray faction cannot but wonder what stunt the Shinde group might try to pull off, especially with regard to more prominent defections. 

While the Shinde group says it does not want BJP’s support for its rally, the Nationalist Congress Party has come down in support of the Uddhav Thackeray faction and even put up posters close to both Matoshree and Shivaji Park. 

NCP president Sharad Pawar has cautioned both sides against allowing things to go out of hand during their respective rallies, but it is understood from informed sources that the NCP will not be playing a passive role during the Dussehra rally. It is actively mobilising crowds for Uddhav for it is important for the NCP leadership to strengthen his hands as the outcome of this rally will determine the future of their alliance and hence that of their own party.

With a by-election due to the suburban Assembly seat of Andheri East and uncertainty about who or if anyone will get the bow and arrow symbol, it is important for both sides to make a good show at Dussehra. The Andheri by-election will be the first test of electoral support to either side, though Shinde seems to be shying away from this early confrontation. 

The seat belongs to the Shiv Sena which had fought in alliance with the BJP in 2019. It fell vacant on the death of its MLA Ramesh Latke in May earlier this year, before the split in the party. 

Strangely, amid a bitter Maharashtrian versus Gujarati war after the migration of the Vedanta Foxconn project to Gujarat, the BJP has put up former corporator Murji Patel as its candidate there, raising concerns on whether Shinde has conceded the seat to the BJP and is likely to surrender more in the future, thus surrendering the influence of the Marathi manoos in the city and state. 

The Shiv Sena, which has gone ballistic over loss of jobs to Maharashtrians over the relocation of the Foxconn project, is likely to field Latke's widow Rutuja on the seat. While it may look like an uneven fight, given Patel's business background, the Sena has done this before. In 2015, within months of the 2014 assembly elections, the Shiv Sena lost its Bandra East MLA Prakash Sawant. The Congress had fielded Narayan Rane who lost to Sawant's widow Trupti by a substantial margin despite his previous Sena credentials and his high profile status. 

Meanwhile, the city is already beginning to come alive in anticipation of both rallies tomorrow. 

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