Hours before the Shiv Sena leaders reached the venue, workers who had reached Shivaji Park set the tone for the evening.
Even as last-minute checks were made, a group of Sena workers started shouting slogans against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah. While a Sena leader took to the microphone and asked the workers to be restrained, it was a while before the slogans died down.
Held after a gap of two years, the rally was being keenly watched by the party’s cadre that had, in the past three weeks, ensured the party gained notoriety through its anti-Pakistan agitations. However, observers said the crowd at Shivaji Park had surged since the last time, in 2013. “The thing that is bothering most of us is this uneasy alliance with the BJP. How can we keep quiet, despite their disrespectful attitude towards Uddhavji? He must spell out the party’s stance,” said 27-year-old Chetan Salvi, a Sena supporter from Parel.The anxieties were soon addressed, even as Thackeray tore into the BJP, with his one-liners and witty retorts.
“What is all this talk about the gai [cow]? Talk instead of mehengai [inflation],” the party chief said, alluding to the BJP’s beef politics, to resounding claps.
Sticking to inflation, Thackeray also sought to slam the BJP some more. “State BJP chief Raosaheb Danve said they would provide security to Pakistani cricketers and actors. The other day, I read that tur dal was stolen from Nagpur. Why not provide protection to dal instead?”
The crowd’s reactions to the speeches by their leaders showed the rhetoric against the BJP and Pakistan were the crowd’s favourites. Party MP Sanjay Raut’s comments on both the issues provoked loud claps and sloganeering from the cadre.
Thackeray milked the situation by taking a hardline Hindutva stance on the growth of Muslim population in the country, to much applause. “What will remain of the country and of Hindus, if they keep growing this way?”
However, some of the loudest cheers were at times the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s name was invoked by any leader.