Bal Thackeray's death anniversary: Low turnout gives Shiv Sena the jitters

If there’s strength in numbers, then the tiger should be feeling lean. It’s not just the snub by MNS chief Raj Thackeray and family to his uncle’s memorial event and the stinging remarks by Bal Thackeray’s elder son Jaidev that have the Shiv Sena furrowing its brows. The party was dealt a bigger blow by the low attendance at the Sena patriarch’s first death anniversary tribute at Shivaji Park on Sunday, despite instructions to ensure a large crowd.

NOT ENOUGH: The crowd at Shivaji Park was dismal, going by what the party had expected. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Sena office bearers had issued clear directions to party cadres across the state ensure a high turnout from the various districts. “No engagements at the local level to pay homage to the party leader. All the Shiv Sainiks, along with Sena followers, should arrive in Mumbai on November 16 or by the morning of November 17 to be present at Shivaji Park,” the directions stated.

Faintly roars the tiger: The Thackeray family and supporters at Shivaji Park on November 17, a year after the Shiv Sena founder died. Pic/Bipin Kokate

“The instructions were for us to get to Mumbai anyhow. We were asked to hire private vehicles if public transport was not available,” said a Shiv Sena official from Vidarbha region in eastern Maharashtra.

The district chiefs and regional party observers had told all the party’s tehsil- and city-level functionaries that the attendance was a must and the directions binding. Despite the stiff decree, the crowd at Shivaji Park on Sunday was around 50,000 throughout the day, according to police estimates. A few Sena leaders insisted that the number went beyond 1 lakh.

Pre-poll pallor
A few zealots had told party chief Uddhav Thackeray that at least 10 lakh Sena supporters were expected to throng the venue. But this turned out to be mere hyperbole, party leaders said.

“In fact, our expectation of a turnout of 5 lakh people including the Sainiks also proved to be a hollow estimate,” said a Sena leader requesting anonymity. “The poor attendance is going to hound us for long, what with the party gearing up to face the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and the state assembly elections later next year,” the leader said.

He added, “The occasion on November 17 was an opportunity for us to show our strength, and display the unity among party followers. Had the gathering been huge or record-making, it would have bolstered the confidence of Shiv Sainiks and sent the right message to the rival parties.”

“Uddhav is likely to take a serious view of the unexpectedly poor turnout and may seek clarification on this,” party workers said.  

MNS dithers in showing respect
Where Sena workers had been given a mandate to show up and chose not to, their MNS counterparts were left without a clue, since no instructions were issued to them by the party helmsman on whether to make an appearance at the Shivaji Park memorial or not. “A number of MNS office bearers in Mumbai and elsewhere were eager to visit Shivaji Park, but they did not get any clear instructions from party chief Raj Thackeray. To avoid any embarrassment or glitch, most of them remained at home,” said an office bearer of the party. In fact, banners and hoardings had been kept ready to show respect to the deceased Sena patriarch at the word go, but in the absence of any guidelines they were not hailed or put up. An office bearer from the city said a few banners had reportedly been displayed, but not at any place prominent.  

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