Uddhav Thackeray wins over Eknath Shinde in battle of Dussehra rallies

The fact was also established by the responses of the two crowds – tremendous cheering and spontaneity at Shivaji Park and relative silence from the impassive ones at the BKC grounds.

Uddhav Thackeray (File Photo)
Uddhav Thackeray (File Photo)

Sujata Anandan

In a nutshell, the much anticipated dual rallies of the two Shiv Senas were a sort of anti-climax. The speeches were predictable and mostly repetitive, both grounds packed out, no anticipated clashes between the rival groups of Shiv Sainiks. What stood out was that Uddhav Thackeray was on the offensive, while Eknath Shinde was on the defensive.

But between Thackeray's attack and Shinde's defence, there was one thread that ran through both the rallies – the stress on Hindutva. And the establishment of the fact that the real Shiv Sena belongs to Uddhav Thackeray so far, for the crowds at his rally walked to Shivaji Park from Mumbai, its suburbs and nearby towns while Shinde had to bus in his listeners with more than 350 state transport buses and trains from as far away as Vidarbha and Marathwada.

The fact was also established by the responses of the two crowds – tremendous cheering and spontaneity at Shivaji Park and relative silence from the impassive ones at the BKC grounds.

The Shivaji Park rally took forward Uddhav’s attempt to redefine his party’s brand of Hindutva with Sushma Andhare, a lawyer, activist and writer, a new entrant to the party, making her fiery debut at the Shivaji Park rally.

She put into words what Uddhav or Aaditya Thackeray have not been able to clearly articulate so far – show us one Hindu text, scripture, stotra or mantra which says that to be a true Hindu, you have to have “kattar dvesh” (hard-core malice) towards other religions, that you have to beat up Muslims and Christians or kill non-Hindus to prove your devotion to your religion.

As the electrified crowds drew forth their saffron stoles and twirled them about in the air, it might be a difficult question to answer for all the saffron-clad godmen who have been leading a hate agenda of late and calling for genocide of Muslims. So far, even Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis who was personally targetted at the rally by Uddhav, have been unable to pick up the gauntlet and refute the claims and allegations, except to say Uddhav was harping on old issues.

There were two very emotional moments at the Shivaji Park rally, the sentiment and imagery of which the rival camp will find it difficult to combat: Uddhav, against his doctor's advice following a spine surgery, getting down on his knees and touching his forehead to the dais to thank the people for their support and his swearing by both his father and mother that he had been speaking the truth when he had said that Union home minister Amit Shah had promised the Shiv Sena a two-and-half year stint in government. "So when that is exactly what you are doing now, why could you not have given it to us then," he said, putting the onus for the break-up of the alliance on the BJP

Shinde kept harping on the Hindutva of Bal Thackeray and said he was the true claimant of that legacy, but then Uddhav went one step ahead to dig out an old statement of his father wherein Balasaheb had said he considered every person, Hindu or Muslim, who loved his country, to be a true Shiv Sainik and if, as the rival group says, Bal Thackeray's Hindutva was the real Hindutva, then you only have to identify the “gaddars” (traitors) to Bal Thackeray’s cause and show them their place.

Uddhav said nothing he had not said earlier at the meeting of his gat pramukhs but Shinde was obviously smarting at that label. Shiv Sena leaders at the Shivaji Park rally also pounced upon Shinde’s various failures in the past two months, mainly the inability to provide relief to farmers reeling under the excessive rains, the failure to stop the migration of the Vedanta-Foxconn project to Gujarat and something that is likely to turn a huge embarrassment for Shinde in the coming weeks – the by-election to the Andheri East constituency in north Mumbai. 

The seat belongs to the Shiv Sena which it had contested in alliance with the BJP. It could have been an early test of strength between the two Senas but the Shinde group has decided to cede it to the BJP which has already announced its candidate – former corporator and business entrepreneur Murji Patel, while Uddhav Thackeray is fielding Rutuja Latke, the widow of Ramesh Latke, the deceased MLA. 

The election is on November 3, before which the Election Commission must decide if the bow and arrow symbol can be used by Uddhav at the polls. Perhaps it is this uncertainty and complication that is keeping Shinde away from the election.

However, with the kind of spontaneous response that Uddhav Thackeray got at his rally, the support of both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party and the Gujarati businessman pitted against the widow of a Marathi manoos, the outcome could prove one-sided and Shinde is perhaps wise to stay away from a debacle this this early. But either way, he is bound to lose ground in public perception, particularly after a fast snowballing controversy over the Rs 10 crore that his group is said to have paid the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation at various depots to bus in people from different parts of the state. Both the Congress and the NCP are on the offensive demanding an account of where the money came from. That it was paid in cash was also pounced upon by NCP MP Supriya Sule who has demanded of Narendra Modi answers to why his demonetisation policy of five years ago has not wiped out black money as he had claimed. 

At the end of the day, Uddhav Thackeray seems to have once again landed on his feet and proved that he is truly the cat with nine lives. Shinde, who appropriated all the Shiv Sena symbols, including that of the roaring tiger which snarled at people from the back of the dais, may just turn out to be the cat that has not quite succeeded in getting or eating up the cream – at least not yet. 

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