Two Dussehra rallies took place on Tuesday in Mumbai. One at Shivaji Park where Uddhav Thackeray spoke. The second one was at Azad Maidan where CM Eknath Shinde addressed his supporters.
In Shivaji Park, the crowd at Uddhav Thackeray's Dussehra rally was nowhere near expected.
While the crowd wasn't humongous at Shiv Sena rally in Azad Maidan too, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde was flanked by a large group of elected representatives on the stage. These leaders were MLAs, MPs, and even the deputy chair of Maharashtra's Legislative Council.
Uddhav Thackeray's speech for the Dussehra rally appeared to be written by a new writer this time. The buzz going around is that it was his son, Aaditya, who had a major role in deciding some of the key points that Uddhav raised in his address.
His direct attack on Adani, in relation the Dharavi Redevelopment Project, especially came as a surprise because the Thackeray's have had good connections with the business families. They are regulars at events hosted by the Ambanis and barely a few days ago when the Adani group secured the tender for the Dharavi redevelopment, Gautam Adani had visited Uddhav at his residence.
So what explains Thackeray's attack?
One reason could be that Uddhav wants to visibly align himself with what Rahul Gandhi has been saying for the last few years.
Also, Aaditya has opposed multiple development projects earlier too. For example, he was vocal in opposing the Carshed for Mumbai Metro at Aarey, in spite of his party being in the ruling alliance then.
Over and above this though, Uddhav's speech exposed a fear that he has probably realized will soon come true. Thackeray in his speech spoke about how only a coalition government will be formed in the state.
This betrays that Uddhav knows he will never be able to get a majority or a large numbers of MLAs in his camp in future elections.
Many who haven't followed Uddhav would consider the above statement as a case of the author reading too much into a standard political speech, but the truth is that this is probably is the first time when Uddhav has openly said so. Before this, he would always say that chief minister would be from his party and would rarely give any importance to coalition.
Uddhav also expressed his dissatisfaction with his own former party colleague, and now Speaker of Maharashtra Assembly, Rahul Narvekar. He accused Narvekar of purposely delaying the verdict on the disqualification plea.
He also focused on the Maratha reservation issue, and accused the BJP and Chief Minister for not acting on it on purpose.
Meanehile, what was missing at Uddhav's rally was visible at Shinde's rally, Shinde was flanked by the same Shiv Sena leaders who were seen on the stage during Dussehra rallies when Balasaheb Thackeray would address them.
Shinde attacked Uddhav where he knew it would hurt the most. He spoke about corruption, and called Uddhav's government as 'Lena Bank'. On Uddhav's recent political statements and allies, Shinde said that he who has already joined hands with Congress and Samajwadi Party, can also ally with the AIMIM and hug Hamas.
Uddhav Thackeray, since he joined hands with Congress and Sharad Pawar, has managed to position himself as the next big leader for the minority community and has got a good following amongst them. Shinde pointed out the same in his speech.
He also put a full-stop to speculations that his government was in any danger and he being unhappy with Ajit Pawar's inclusion in it. On the contrary, he claimed that Pawar becoming a part of the government has strengthened him.
Shinde, also professed his confidence in PM Modi and claimed that BJP-Sena-NCP alliance will win 45 seats of the 48 in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. A figure close to what those on ground have been predicting.
In the run up to Dussehra, Shinde was accused of being soft on Uddhav, for not fighting for Shivaji Park and settling for Azad Maidan for his rally. But he explained that he is the CM of the state and he wouldn't take any step that will endanger the peace of the state and hence, he chose an alternative.
In the political theatre of Maharashtra, Tuesday's stage was put in Mumbai. In his act, Uddhav Thackeray's unexpected rhetoric revealed strategic shifts, possibly influenced by his son, Aaditya. Meanwhile, Eknath Shinde exuded the sense of being in control, all while countering Thackeray's narrative.
The stage is set, alliances forged, as Maharashtra walks into 2024 when it holds both the Parliamentary and Assembly elections.
Varun Singh, is a Mumbai-based journalist and tracks politics and other important news from the western region of the country. Varun has spent close to 18 years in journalism.
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