Gudi Padwa, traditionally a muted festival day, took on a distinct political hue this year, with all three saffron parties looking to consolidate their share of what is largely a homogenous core base — the Marathi manoos.
Raj Thackeray took on Modi in his debut Gudi Padwa rally. Pic/Ajinkya Sawant
Next February’s BMC polls is expected to be a multi-pronged battle for the wards of Mumbai, with the BJP and the Shiv Sena likely to contest it separately. Adding another dimension is the MNS, for which the BMC polls are a virtual battle for relevance.
Friday saw the streets of Mumbai decked up in political colours of all three parties, especially the Marathi pockets like Parel, Dadar and Shivaji Park. Adding a layer to the complex battle was MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s rally at Shivaji Park, a traditional Sena bastion. Marathi-dominated areas in the island city and the suburbs saw a huge competition between MNS and Shiv Sena in the way of banners being installed along with the party flags. On Friday evening, the road from St Michael’s Church in Mahim to Sena Bhavan in Dadar was decked in the colours of both the Senas.
While for the MNS, this is probably a last attempt at survival, the Sena is seeking to keep control of the richest civic body in the country, which it has ruled along with the BJP for over 25 years now.
Flags of Shiv Sena, BJP and MNS flutter near Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar, yesterday. Pic/Atul Kamble
Notwithstanding Raj Thackeray’s digs at the state government, some observers even wondered if the BJP was covertly backing the MNS, by helping it get permission to celebrate gudi padwa at Shivaji Park. While the MNS was making a show of strength at the iconic park, the Sena sought to use gudi padwa to consolidate the Marathi Manoos base by inaugurating free Wi-Fi in Girgaum and organising other events on Friday.
“Raj Thackeray is trying to revitalise the organisation and trying to make MNS politically relevant,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale. “He wants to use the BMC elections to check-mate the Sena. There might be a hidden understanding between BJP and MNS because for both of them the Sena is the major enemy. Raj has chosen Gudi Padwa for the rally because he wants to start a new political chapter for MNS and this is the best day.”
Researcher and analyst Nilu Damle said having a Gudi Padwa rally would help Raj counter the Sena’s annual Dusshera rally when it comes to mindspace with voters. “But the Sena has a proper grassroots structure, which the MNS does not have. Such rallies will also help the party galvanise grassroots support.”
Another prominent feature this Gudi Padwa was the appropriation of Shivaji statues around the city. Significantly, the statue outside the airport – which wore Sena colours on Shiv Jayanti – was decked in MNS colours.
There were those who asked if the BJP was tacitly backing the MNS to undercut the Sena. Rais Shaikh, Samajwadi Party group leader in the BMC, claimed the BJP played a big part in ensuring the MNS rally in Shivaji Park. “It virtually sponsored the event, allowed the police to let MNS mobilise crowds, making it clear that the BJP is targeting the Sena to cut its vote share by enabling the MNS regain lost momentum,” said Shaikh.
Statue in demand: This statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji near Sahar airport seems to be a hot favourite with the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. During Shiv Jayanti celebrations recently, Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray had offered flowers to the statue, now it was the turn of MNS, who decorated it for their Gudi Padwa jamboree. Pic/Vedant Mane
BJP leaders rubbished these theories. A senior leader pointed out that even when the Sena had asked for Dusshera rally permission, the government readily agreed and submitted favourable points in the high court.
“A vote bank has to be managed by its own party,” said the leader. “No outsider can influence vote bank. However, we are seeing many people from the Sena are speaking against us. The cadre wants us to repeat what we did in the assembly election – go solo. It could be that the other party is not sure about winning alone, hence such accusations.”
Political Analyst Jose George laid out the roadmap for the MNS if it is to gain relevance, saying the party has to show a contrast between itself and the Sena.
“The MNS wants to occupy the Sena’s space,” said George. “For this, it needs to show how, despite being in power, the Sena has failed to address the issues faced by Marathi people. This will be the issue ahead of the BMC polls and Raj has made a start at Shivaji Park.”