The Shiv Sena capitalised on its Dussehra rally on Tuesday to launch its campaign ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, warning the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to clarify its stand rather than stabbing the Sena in the back while hinting at its willingness for an alliance, so long as the Sena gets an upper hand.
The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance has ruled the BMC, the country’s richest municipal corporation, for 20 years with the Sena always having an upper hand. However, with equations having changed at the state level and the BJP wanting a bigger pie of Mumbai this time, there are questions over whether the alliance will continue.
“Mumbai belongs to Sena and Sena to Mumbai. Whenever any trouble has befallen the city, it is Shiv Sena’s saffron that has come to the city’s rescue...If you are ready to walk with us together, do come happily, but don’t expect us to follow you with a begging bowls,” Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said, adding the Sena has over the years developed a blood relation with Mumbai, and no one should try to dilute it.
Within five minutes of his hour-long speech, Thackeray also clarified its agenda in relation to the BJP. Aiming barbs at BJP leaders Ashish Shelar and Kirit Somaiya, Thackeray said, “If you have the courage, then break the alliance now and fight with us, children of the tiger, directly. Don’t stab us from behind. We will show you how our surgical strike can be.”
Thackeray used the platform to firmly align with the Maratha community, supporting its demand for reservation in government jobs and education, as well as amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “If the government had listened to the late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s demand for reservations based on economic backwardness, the Marathas wouldn’t have had to take to the streets to protest for education and jobs today. If you can’t grant reservations based on economic backwardness and can give quotas only based on caste, then give people their just right,” Thackeray said, in response to criticism that the Sena has changed its age-old stance of opposing caste-based reservation to dodge the Maratha community’s ire.
Thackeray also sounded the poll bugle by announcing that around Diwali, he will start visiting all the Sena’s shakhas to interact with the party cadre, appraise the work done so far and understand local needs going into elections.
While the Sena chief praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the recent surgical strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as a befitting, but much overdue response, he also criticized the BJP for inconsistency in its agenda with regards to Pakistan, while singling out the Shiv Sena as the only party with clarity in this regard. “When artists, spokespersons, litterateurs come from Pakistan our people welcome them with open arms. Only the Shiv Sainiks protest. Last year, it was this very government who had assured Pakistani personalities full protection and portrayed the protesting Shiv Sainiks as traitors,” Thackeray said. He also criticized Congress and the Aam Aadi Party for distrusting the Indian Army by expressing doubts over the surgical strike, calling for sedition charges to be slapped against such leaders.
The Sena chief also lashed out at the prime minister and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for campaigning for BJP candidates for every state election. “After the Lok Sabha polls, there has always been some or the other state elections and we behave as if we don’t have any topic nationally more important than elections. The prime minister has the responsibility of the entire country, and the chief minister, the entire state and both have taken an oath to treat everyone equally. They should not campaign for the candidate of a single party,” Thackeray said.