Senior Shiv Sena ministers, legislators and parliamentarians sat in the audience. The ground was adorned with posters of Aaditya Thackeray, grandson of former Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and the head of Sena youth wing Yuva Sena. The air was impregnate with songs and voices announcing the 26-year-old as Yuva Sena’s tiger.
With elections to the Mumbai civic body, from which the Shiv Sena draws most of its power, just three months away, Saturday’s protest rally of the Aaditya-led Yuva Sena sent a resounding message that the Thackeray scion would be one of the party’s star campaigners for the polls. Over the past couple of years, the Sena top brass has made a conscious effort to promote Aaditya to attract young voters who were fascinated by MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s appeal for some time. The next few months will see elections to Mumbai as well as the Thane, Pune, Nashik and other civic bodies.
Retaining power in Mumbai and Thane and performing well in other civic bodies is important for the Sena as it will also be a bellwether of sorts of Aaditya’s appeal. Saturday’s protest under his leadership was the first step towards the same, said party sources.
The rally, which attracted a moderate crowd (about 8,000 according to police estimates), was the first to be organised under Aaditya’s leadership with his Yuva Sena. It comes close on the heels of Shiv Sena’s recent show of strength at its annual Dussehra rally, which Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray addressed.
Saturday’s rally was organised to protest against the BJP-led state government, of which the Sena is a part, over inefficiencies in the education sector right from kindergarten to post-graduation.
“Deta ki jaata? (Grant us our demands, or be ready to go?),” Aaditya said, with the crowd gathered, comprising Yuva Sena workers, students and teachers, shouting in tow. “Is there any difference you can see between the situation in the previous incapable Congress government and today’s government? Nobody has any bad intentions in this government. The government is clean and is working well, but in this (education) department the expected changes are not happening with speed,” Aaditya said.
The Yuva Sena leader cruised through issues from donations for school admissions to confusion over admissions and examinations in higher education , bad canteens, lack of sports facilities and the weight of school bags. At one point, he displayed a ‘bulky’ school bag of a Class 8 student. A while later, he held up photographs of dysfunctional fans, unhygienic toilets and a sludgy water body, which he revealed with a flourish as the Mumbai University’s swimming pool to a raucous applause, hoots and whistles.
The rally, which started from Wilson College at Girgaum Chowpatty, culminated in a gathering with Aaditya’s public address at the Islam Gymkhana ground at Marine Lines, amid sloganeering against education minister and BJP leader Vinod Tawde. Significantly, Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar and his mentor Tawde are seen as Sena’s bete noires in Mumbai. Shelar has been consistently targeting the Sena over its functioning in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). It was more than coincidence that the protest march was planned against the education department headed by Tawde.
Later, Tawde taunted whether the rally was meant to highlight issues related to education, or to project Aaditya as a prominent leader ahead of the BMC polls in 2017.
“The issues related to first to tenth standard mostly fall in the BMC’s domain. For higher education, the portfolio is with a minister of state from the Shiv Sena. The government has already addressed most of the demands, while some are being looked into,” Tawde said.
Aaditya dismissed the jibe.
“I don’t need to organise a rally to prove my leadership,” he said.
“Six years ago, Balasaheb (Thackeray) handed over a sword to me, and a person who has received it from Balasaheb doesn’t need to prove his leadership,” he said.