Mumbai: In his first public rally in Mumbai after becoming chief minister of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday launched a withering attack on former political ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saying that the saffron party was playing “ugly politics” and deployed “A, B, and C teams” to mislead the people of the state and the nation with “fake Hindutva”.
Addressing nearly 100,000 party workers from across the state, Thackeray accused the BJP of trying to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra. The CM questioned leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis’ claim of being in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992, and took on the BJP-led Center over issues like inflation, and for holding up important infrastructure projects in Mumbai.
The rally held in the Bandra Kurla Complex’s on the MMRDA grounds (BKC) kicked off Sena’s campaign for the upcoming local bodies polls slated to be held across the state, including in cities like Mumbai and Pune, later this year.
“BJP is playing ugly politics,” Thackeray said, adding that he wondered if “it was the same party that the Sena considered to be a friend for 25 years”.
“We didn’t recognize them then, but they are not our friend but our enemy. After the mask of Hindutva has come off, their true and perverse face is exposed. We still wonder if they are the same who were kept close by Balasaheb,” Thackeray said in a no-holds-barred attack on its former saffron ally.
Thackeray’s rally comes in the backdrop of criticism from the BJP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray that the Sena has deviated from Hindutva ideology ever since it joined hands with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to form the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government in November 2019. Fadnavis had said that the Sena had turned “pseudo secular” for the sake of power.
Sena and BJP split ways soon after the assembly results were declared in 2019, after the Sena was denied the CM’s post. The BJP attempted to form a government with the support of NCP’s Ajit Pawar, but it was short lived.
Thackeray on Saturday criticized the Center for not coming up with concrete solutions to issues like inflation and attacks on Kashmiri Pandits. “Rahul Bhat, the Kashmiri Pandit, was killed in his office. What is the solution in this? Chant Hanuman Chalisa or hold ghanta yatra? We are celebrating Amrut Mahotsav (75 years of Independence) of our Independence but the rupee is now at 77 (to the dollar). Why don’t you speak on these issues?” Thackeray said.
“A few days ago, prime minister Narendra Modi had chaired a meeting on Covid-19, and he gave a remedy for it… he asked chief ministers to reduce fuel prices. I thought Covid would go away with this. They are not giving the dues to the state,” he said.
Thackeray added the Center has held up other crucial projects for Mumbai including the Metro car shed. “They want a Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train; do you want it? Suppose, if it materialises then who will travel in that? This is a plot to breakaway Mumbai and we will not allow it,” he said.
“Attempts to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra will never be allowed to succeed,” he said.
“The people must decide who they want. Do they want those who burn houses or the ones who are lighting the stoves? Our Hindutva is to light stoves in the homes of people and not burn down homes,” Thackeray said.
“Maharashtra is one of the top destinations for start-ups, investments are coming in. They cannot accept that Maharashtra is progressing therefore they are creating such things. Keep politics at its place… they are defaming Maharashtra. They are behaving like a jilted lover. I am asking you today in a cultured manner. Stop all this tamasha, and let’s take Maharashtra forward,” Thackeray said in an appeal to the opposition party.
In April, Sena MP and chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut had claimed that there was “a big conspiracy of [BJP leader] Kirit Somaiya and his associates to make Mumbai a Union territory.” “These people have given a presentation to the Union home ministry.Somaiya is leading the conspiracy and is planning to bring Mumbai under Central rule,” Raut had said.
“Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana never insulted PM Modi but highlighted issues of state and national importance,” he further said.
“It turned out to be a ‘taunts bomb’. There will be a reply to it and it will be the befitting one,” Leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis tweeted in Marathi after the rally. Fadnavis, who headed the previous BJP-led government in the state, will hold a rally in Goregaon on May 15.
At the time, Thackeray had responded saying that Shiv Sena’s Hindutva was “inclusive” unlike the BJP’s “Hindutva of convenience”. “The BJP does not have a patent on Hindutva. Their Hindutva is one of convenience and they use it when it suits them…to spread hatred. We have abandoned the BJP not Hindutva (ideology). Sena is always committed to Hindutva and Bhagva (saffron),” he had said at a virtual rally for the North Kolhapur bypoll held in April.
“Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has conveniently forgotten about the position he holds. He blamed Modi government for the inflation and question why don’t we speak on it, but forgets that the state government can give relief to the people by reducing its VAT on petrol and diesel,” Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said.
Criticizing the critics
Referring to Fadnavis’ speech on May 1, Thackeray said, “Devendra Fadnavis [talked about] the wishes of his masters, which is to make Mumbai independent [of Maharashtra], No matter how many generations come but you will not be able to do that. Like Balasaheb said we have attained Mumbai by spilling our blood, we have not got it in alms.”
Referring to Fadnavis’ claim that he visited Ayodhya for Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, the CM said, “He said he went to Babri? What was your age then? Was it a school picnic or a college trip for you to go?”
“Hindutva is not in the caps. If it was so then why is the cap worn by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers black in colour? Hindutva is in the minds and hearts,” Thackeray said.
The RSS never participated in the freedom struggle against the British, Thackeray said. He countered the BJP’s claim that the “current Shiv Sena is not the party set up by Bal Thackeray” and asked if the current BJP followed former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ideology.
“If you want to speak for Mumbai, then the Kanjurmarg plot [for metro car depot] is held up, go to Delhi and raise the issue. We have given money for the Dharavi plot from Railway, but they are not giving it. Go there and get it for my Mumbaikars. There are several projects of Mumbai that are being held up by the Centre,” Thackeray said.
Thackeray also took digs at his cousin, MNS chief Raj Thackeray. “One day a Shiv Sainik asked me if I watched ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’. He said like in the movie Sanjay Dutt sees Gandhiji, we have a person here who thinks he is Balasaheb. He wears shawls, sometimes picks up Marathi issues, and Hindutva. The movie is based on true story. This is a case of chemical locha (imbalance) in the brain. Let some Munnabhai roam around. They want to go to Ayodhya,” he said, referring to Raj’s impending visit to the UP city.
Thackeray added that the MNS, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, and independent legislators Navneet Rana and Ravi Rana — who threatened to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside his residence, Matoshree, last month, and were arrested — were “team B” of the BJP. “They send somebody to Aurangzeb’s tomb, give loudspeakers to another and ask someone else to recite the Hanuman Chalisa. These are B-teams of BJP. If something happens, cases will be filed on [the teams] while [the BJP] will hold press conferences.”
“They (BJP) are holding a rally tomorrow to ‘give an answer’. Let them. I will hold another rally. But I want to say one thing, if you want to give an answer, then give answers on the inflation issue,” Thackeray said.
Staking claim to ‘Hindutva’
On April 2, Raj had raised the issue of removing loudspeakers that play the azaan (call for prayer) outside mosques. Raj said Thackeray had “forgotten” the ideals of Sena party founder Bal Thackeray, and projected himself as the true Hindutva ideological heir of the Sena patriarch. Instead, Thackeray was following the political ideology of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Raj said.
Sena leaders countered Raj’s statements and said that Raj, who left the Sena, should not teach them Hindutva. Sena MP and chief party spokesperson Sanjay Raut called the MNS a “concubine” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Those who left Balasaheb and his ideals, and those who have become the concubine of BJP, which backstabbed Shiv Sena, must not teach us Hindutva. They must do their politics but they don’t have the right to call others fake. Like there are fake liberals, there are fake Hindutvawadis as well,” Raut had said.
The Sena called BJP’s tacit support to the MNS a move to divide Hindus. Raut had said that the BJP was using Raj to carry out its own agenda. The MNS has been on the back foot in the Hindutva tug of war, after Raj’s previous campaigns against North Indian residents of Mumbai — specifically migrants and residents from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — gave pause to the BJP’s plan of indicating any formal alignment with the MNS especially during the UP state assembly elections that were held earlier this year.
In the run-up to the BKC rally, Sena has been releasing teasers with video clips of Bal Thackeray and Uddhav for the last few days. In one such clip, Bal Thackeray is heard saying he is the Sena ‘pramukh’ because of the support of Shiv Sainiks, while another teaser carried Bal Thackeray’s famous speech opener greeting to all “Hindu brothers and sisters”. The teaser also says Shiv Sainiks will “see and hear real Hindutva” at the rally.
Sena is planning a show of strength at BKC. Parab, who is organizing the rally, said the ground’s capacity was around 1.5 lakh people, and Sena had only invited party workers from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The Sena chief is also slated to hold a public rally in Aurangabad on June 8. On January 23, 2020, the CM had participated in the celebrations held on the birth anniversary of Bal Thackeray at the MMRDA Ground in BKC.
Sena also kicked off its Shiv Samvad Abhiyan (outreach program with booth level party workers) at the rally. After Vidarbha and Marathwada, the Abhiyan will be conducted in Mumbai, and other districts in the north and west of the state, as well as in the Konkan region. A senior Sena functional said party MPs are expected to start touring these regions on May 25.
“Fadnavis addressed ‘booster dose rally’ on May 1 at Somaiya ground in Mumbai to charge up the party cadre and booth level workers ahead of the local body polls. This is his second political rally in the gap of just two weeks and immediately after Thackeray’s rally. He would not miss the opportunity to give it back to Thackeray and Shiv Sena,”said a BJP leader who did not wish to be named.
Several ruling party leaders as well as their family members and associates are under the scanner of multiple central agencies. In March, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) attached 11 flats of a company owned by Thackeray’s brother-in-law Shridhar Patankar. Other agencies have initiated action against Sena leaders including Sanjay Raut and people close to Aaditya Thackeray. Other MVA ministers, including former home minister Anil Deshmukh and state minister Nawab Malik are under investigation for alleged corruption.
(Inputs by Surendra P Gangan)