Ahead of BMC polls, battle for Thackeray’s legacy intensifies

Balasaheb’s family did not join the official celebrations as PM Modi, CM Shinde led tributes to the champion of the Maratha cause

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By: Urvashi Khona | NEW DELHI
Updated: 24 January, 2023 11:44 am IST
CM Eknath Shinde unveiled a portrait of the late Balasaheb Thackeray in the central hall of the state assembly

As Maharashtra celebrated the 97th birth anniversary of late Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, the fissures in Maharashtra politics were quite evident.

While Chief minister Eknath Shinde, one of Balasaheb’s trusted lieutenants, led the official celebrations, Balasaheb’s immediate family – his son and former CM Uddhav Thackeray and grandson Aditya Thackeray – gave the function a miss.

The irony of the situation cannot be missed, for Balasaheb built his legacy championing the cause of the local Maratha population.

In the official ceremony, the Maharashtra government unveiled a portrait of the late Balasaheb in the central hall of the state assembly. Apart from the members of the ruling party, Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena, the function was also attended by the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra assembly and Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar.

The only prominent member of the Thackeray family who attended the unveiling was Raj Thackeray, Balasaheb’s nephew.

Earlier, CM Shinde also paid floral tribute to the life-size statue of Balasaheb at Dr Shamaprasad Mukherjee Chowk in South Mumbai.

“We are trying to convey his thoughts to the general public through the Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena party, which was established by considering the views of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray, who instilled the embers of identity among the Marathi people,” CM Shinde tweeted in Marathi.

Shinde’s alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also paid rich tributes to the man with whom they had a long relationship.

Prime minister Narendra Modi himself led the tributes. “Remembering Balasaheb Thackeray on his birth anniversary. I will always cherish my various interactions with him. He was blessed with rich knowledge and wit. He devoted his life to public welfare,” PM Modi tweeted.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the BJP also paid floral tributes at Dadar’s iconic Shivaji Park. “Paid humble tributes to Hindu Hruday Samrat, Shiv Sena Pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray ji on his Smruti Din at Mumbai,” Fadnavis later tweeted.

In what could be seen as a statement, Fadnavis also said, “The bond with Balasaheb Thackeray is not only through blood but through ideologies.”

Meanwhile, Uddhav Thackeray paid tribute to his father at his life-size statue installed at Regal Circle in Colaba. Later, while addressing the cadre of his Shiv Sena faction (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) in Sion, Uddhav Thackeray dared the BJP and the Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction to seek votes without invoking his late father’s name.

“Even the BJP has accepted that it cannot fetch votes without invoking Balasaheb Thackeray. Men of Modi with the face of Balasaheb, if you have guts, seek votes in the name of Modi and face polls,” he said.

The claim for Balasaheb’s legacy is understandable with a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) poll on the way. Shiv Sena had ruled the corporation for years. The election will also be the first since the Shiv Sena split, and both factions will be eager to keep control of the vital corporation.

PM Modi’s recent visit to Mumbai, where he announced billions of dollars in projects for India’s financial capital, was also marked by numerous signs of BMC election preparations.

Not to be left behind and in his bid to stay alive in state politics, Uddhav Thackeray also announced the alliance of his faction of Sena with the grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Prakash Ambedkar, and his Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).

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