The historic Shivaji Park ground here has become the new bone of contention between the two rival Shiv Sena factions, both clamouring to hold the annual calendar event, the Dassehra Rally.
The Shiv Sena President and ex-Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is facing competition from the rebel faction led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and even the Raj Thacekray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is toying with the idea of a rally at the Shivaji Park.
The annual mega-rally held on Vijaya Dashami or Dassehra Day each year is expected to be a litmus test on the Shiv Sena and the Shinde Group’s claims that it is the ‘real Shiv Sena’.
Both the factions have applied to the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for permission to hold the public rally there on October 5.
Rajya Sabha MP Anil Desai, close to Thackeray has sought permission on behalf of the Shiv Sena, while Dadar MLA Sada Sarvankar has submitted an application on behalf of the Shinde Group.
When asked about it, CM Shinde skirted a direct reply and said: “There is still time now… We are now celebrating Ganeshotsav and Anant Chaturdashi, then Navratri and Dassehra will come… How can I predict everything now? You will come to know in some more time.”
Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar said while anybody has the right to hold their rally at Shivaji Park, he urged Shinde “to avoid a confrontationist approach” with the Opposition.
Shiv Sena’s fomer mayor Kishori Pednekar slammed the turncoats, claiming they are apparently suffering from a ‘Ghajini-syndrome’ – referring to the 2008 blockbuster starring Aamir Khan in which he suffers a rare type of amnesia.
“They are trying to erase history. They have forgotten it is the Shiv Sena which started the tradition and has been holding the annual Dassehra rallies at Shivaji Park from 1966. They are attempting to fuel a law-and-order situation,” said Pednekar agitatedly.
Hoping to cash in on the sentiments, MNS Spokesperson Sandip Deshpande said on Saturday that many party activists want Raj Thackeray to address the rally this year, but said the final call would come only from the party chieftain.
NCP’s Leader of Opposition Ajit Pawar said since they (Shinde Group) have power, they will try everything to get the Shivaji Park for their rally, and it is possible both (Thackeray and Shinde) may be allotted the venue for back-to-back rallies.
Shiv Sena’s Spokesperson Dr. Manisha Kayande, senior leader Ambadas Danve and others have slammed the Shinde Group for attempting to hijack the traditions initiated by the late Balasaheb Thaceray.
Founding the Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966, Balasaheb Thackeray had held his maiden Dassehra Rally at Shivaji Park – also known as the ‘Cradle of Indian Cricket’ – and since then it became his signature event.
Since the past 55 years, it has remained an unbroken tradition – except twice, in 2006 owing to torrential rains and in 2009 as it clashed with the Assembly elections – and a ‘must attend’ for all Shiv Sainiks in the state.
After Balasaheb Thackeray passed away on November 17, 2012, he was accorded a public funeral with his last rites performed in a corner of his favourite venue with several lakhs in attendance.
In 2020, the Dassehra rally was held online and in 2021, it was at the Shanmukhananda Hall, addressed by the former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray owing to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, but this time he has cracked the whip on the Shiv Sena to make full preparations at Shivaji Park — a stone’s throw away from Sena Bhavan, the party landmark headquarters since 1977.