Mumbai: Speaking for the first time from a Shiv Sena stage, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday asked Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party cadres not to worry about who becomes the next chief minister of Maharashtra, but work towards ensuring an “unprecedented mandate" for the saffron alliance in the October assembly election. Fadnavis said he and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had “decided everything between themselves" and “all decisions would be announced at an appropriate time".
“Let the media debate on who becomes the chief minister. It is a secondary issue for us. We must work with a singular goal. That is to make the Maharashtra of the dreams of Hindu Hriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray and, for that, we need to ensure that we get an unprecedented mandate in October. Rest all will be taken care of by Uddhavji and me," Fadnavis told Sena cadres.
It was for the first time that a serving chief minister and politician from a different political party was invited as the chief guest for the Shiv Sena’s foundation day. Founded in 1966 by Balasaheb Thackeray and his father Keshav Thackeray (better known as Prabodhankar Thackeray), the Shiv Sena celebrated its 53rd anniversary on Wednesday.
On his part, Uddhav Thackeray also reiterated that the saffron allies had come together not just for electoral goals, but for their larger commitment to Hindutva and nationalism. He also asked cadres not to worry about what happens after elections and have faith in the leadership of both Shiv Sena and BJP. “Everything has been decided between us, including the post of chief minister. Let’s not worry about these things. Our commitment is to Hindutva, to Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, to Veer Savarkar, and to the abolition of Article 370 in Kashmir," Thackeray said.
Thackeray had extended a personal invite to Fadnavis a few days ago and the chief minister accepted it, leaders from both parties said.
“This is the first time that a serving chief minister and leader from a different political party would attend the foundation day ceremony. Fadnavis has accepted the invitation and he will also address the Shiv Sena cadres along with Uddhav saheb and Aditya Thackeray," a Shiv Sena functionary said, requesting anonymity.
Both Shiv Sena and BJP functionaries said the invitation to Fadnavis was Shiv Sena’s strategic move, aimed at sending out a strong message to the cadres of both parties ahead of the assembly polls. A Shiv Sena strategist, who did not want to be named, said Thackeray had planned this during the Lok Sabha campaign itself. “From our side, Uddhav saheb has been giving strong signals of solidarity between the allies. He was present when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah filed their nomination. Then, he virtually welcomed Modiji in Mumbai when he addressed the joint campaign rally and both the leaders consciously demonstrated their bond on stage. On his part, Modiji also addressed Uddhav saheb as his younger brother," he added.
“ In Maharashtra, Fadnavis has always addressed Uddhav saheb as his elder brother and these two have been on excellent personal terms all along," said the Shiv Sena strategist, explaining the move to invite the chief minister on the Shiv Sena stage. “Our alliance is an ideological bond, a commitment to Hindutva. Fadnavis attending the event and also addressing our cadres will not only send out a strong message of solidarity to our opponents but will also silence those sceptics including some insiders in both the parties who are saying that the assembly elections would be a different ball game and we (Shiv Sena and BJP) may not be able to show same kind of spirit," the Sena strategist added.
In February, the Shiv Sena and BJP ended their frequent public posturing and renewed their alliance for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. The Shiv Sena has been one of the oldest allies of the BJP and the two pro-Hindutva parties formally entered into an alliance nearly three decades back. Since then, they fought all Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections together except the 2014 assembly polls in Maharashtra when they split and contested against each other. Between October 2014 and February 2019, the Shiv Sena savagely criticised the BJP and the Modi government but continued to be the part of the NDA and government at the centre and in state. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the allies won 41 of 48 seats in Maharashtra, thus vindicating the argument made by Thackeray and Fadnavis in February 2019 that their cadres wanted the alliance to ensure a repeat of the 2014 success when they won as many seats.
A Maharashtra BJP leader and minister in the Fadnavis cabinet said Fadnavis and BJP welcomed the invite not only as a “friendly and good-natured gesture" from their ally but also an occasion to enthuse cadres of both the parties. “We have the same DNA, same temperament, same goals. The bitterness of the past is past now and we have returned to our roots. It is very natural in this context for Fadnavis or Uddhav saheb to be by each other’s side. Such bonding creates a climate of trust and friendship and matters like seat-sharing and posts can be sorted out much smoothly in such climate. Congress and NCP, who are looking at another disaster in the assembly polls, are planting these stories of distrust among us. But we are in fact more united than we were earlier because we now know what we can achieve by staying united," said the senior BJP leader, who requested anonymity.