Invoking his father's memory in an emotional appeal and reminding people that Balasaheb Thackeray had conducted his last campaign in Sindhudurg, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray set the tone for his election campaign, addressing two rallies in the lush green coastal belt of Maharashtra on Wednesday.
In his pro-development pitch for Konkan, Thackeray minced no words as he urged people to throw senior leader Narayan Rane out of the region, accusing the legislator of Kudal-Malvan of forceful land acquisition and criticising his arm-twisting methods.
The coastal region was once a Sena citadel, and a majority of Sainiks settled in Mumbai as mill workers hail from this belt. Referring to this, Thackeray said, "The people of Malvan are our family members and our relationship is based on trust, unlike few others."
The party is keen to cash in on the Lok Sabha win, in which Sena wrested power from the Congress-NCP after a decade. In the Lok Sabha elections, Vinayak Raut, now MP, defeated heavyweight Congress minister Narayan Rane's son and incumbent MP Nilesh Rane by over 1.5 lakh votes. This win has given the Sena hope of winning in the constituencies of Sawantwadi, Kudal-Malvan and Kankavali.
In the Assembly polls, Nitesh Rane will be taking on BJP legislator Pramod Jathar in Kankavali, while Vaibhav Naik, a young Sena leader is waging a war on Narayan Rane in Kudal.
"My father, the Shiv Sena chief, had a special connect with people of Konkan, who always stood by us. Being here gives me a sense of belonging, like being home. In his last campaign here, he bowed down before all of you. It is time to throw people who are exploiting you out of Konkan," Uddhav appealed to the audience in Vengurla, where NCP-defector from Sawantwadi Deepak Kesarkar is the candidate.
People gathered in huge numbers at Vengurla and Malvan, walking several kilometres from nearby villages. They waited for hours to hear Thackeray, who flew down to Goa and then drove down to Rane's turf.
Uddhav spoke of the lack of medical facilities, education and industry in Malvan, where senior Rane is the sitting legislator. "To deal with a serious ailment, there is no hospital and you need to run to Goa. For higher education, you have to go to Mumbai," he said.
Thackeray promised to develop the area as a tourism hub, keeping local interests in mind. "We will cancel all projects that are against people. My fishermen still don't get fuel in the open market, and no subsidies. I will change all this."
Rama Kambli, a 34-year-old teacher in Vengurla who lost her mother owing to the lack of timely medical aid, saw meaning in Uddhav's speech. "I voted for Rane last time, thinking he is a tall leader and is from our area. But now I have to think of development, after the defunct hospital in Vengurla took my mother away," she said.
Thackeray also cautioned people against paying heed to PM Narendra Modi, who will conclude his Maharashtra campaign in Sindhudurg. "In the Lok Sabha polls, we helped the NDA come to power and Modi to become prime minister. Now he should keep himself restricted to Delhi and leave Maharashtra to us," Thackeray said at a rally in Malvan.