Mumbai, Amidst the tussle to form the government in Maharashtra, power politics was in full swing on the seventh death anniversary of Shiv Sena founder late Balasaheb Thackeray, here on Sunday.
For the first time, leaders of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) paid homage to Bal Thackeray, both through messages and by making personal visits to Shiv Tirth, the memorial at Shivaji Park in Dadar west.
The leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sena’s former ally, also joined in to pay rich tributes to the late Sena supremo.
The day started with thousands of Shiv Sainiks from across Maharashtra queuing up at the Shiv Tirth to offer tributes to the charismatic leader, who passed away on this day in 2012.
NCP President Sharad Pawar, who was in Pune for a party meeting, paid rich tributes to Bal Thackeray with whom he shared a warm and personal friendship.
“Balasaheb Thackeray raised his voice for the self-respect and pride of ‘Marathi Manoos’. He was a courageous personality and a unique orator who enjoyed the endless affection of his followers. We bow down to him,” Pawar said.
Later, NCP state President Jayant Patil, former Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and senior leader Jitendra Awhad paid their respects at Shivaji Park.
An erstwhile close confidante of the late leader, Bhujbal was seen getting emotional and he later recalled the relationship he enjoyed with the late Thackeray.
Congress leaders, including Bhai Jagtap, came and paid homage and recalled Bal Thackeray’s services to the state and the people of Maharashtra.
Subsequently, Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, his wife Rashmi, sons Aditya and Tejas, other family members and top party leaders visited Shivaji Park and offered floral tributes at the statue of Bal Thackeray.
Sometime later, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis — who earlier tweeted “Balasaheb has taught us self-respect” with a video — accompanied by his former ministerial colleagues Vinod Tawade and Pankaja Munde paid floral tributes.
They did not go inside the Shiv Tirth memorial where several Sena leaders were present, but quickly left as some Shiv Sainiks were seen shouting ‘Mee punha yaeen’ (I will return), the poll slogan of Fadnavis, and ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai’, Sena’s war cry.
Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said that Bal Thackeray had shown the path of ‘Hindutva’ to the party and the country. “Shiv Sena had promised its own CM to him (Bal Thackeray), and you will see that dream being realised soon,” Raut said.
The Congress-NCP and Sena are currently engaged in finalising their upcoming alliance before forming the state government.
A stunned BJP is still hoping that the Sena will have a change of heart and come around, but is simultaneously claiming that it will form the government despite having 105 MLAs, plus reportedly the support of 14 others, including Independents.
To give final touches to the alliance with Sena, Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi and NCP President Sharad Pawar are scheduled to meet in New Delhi on Tuesday, senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar said.
Signalling a formal split, the Sena did not attend a crucial NDA meet on Sunday, while the party’s MPs in the Parliament have been given a new seating arrangement with the Opposition for the winter session starting Monday.
Revered in the state as ‘Balasaheb’, the late Bal Thackeray was a cartoonist-turned-politician who founded the Shiv Sena in 1966 to raise the voice of the Marathi people. He became one of the biggest political figures in the state for the next five decades till his demise in 2012 at the age of 86.