With the 10-day Hindu festival of Dussehra round the corner, the stage is set in Maharashtra where both the Uddhav Thackeray and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led factions of Shiva Sena had both staked claim to holding celebrations at the iconic Shivaji Park. In a shot in the arm for the Thackeray faction, the Bombay High Court on Friday granted it permission to hold its annual Dussehra rally at the venue in central Mumbai.
For the Thackeray, the development has a symbolic value as Shivaji Park is associated with the Sena since its birth, and his group is locked in a tussle with the rebel group led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to establish itself as the `real' Shiv Sena.
The Shinde faction had also sought permission to hold the rally at the same venue on the same day (October 5), and opposed the Thackeray group's petition in the high court.
The celebration of the Dussehra rally in the Park and the Park itself have a long history of their own and have been an important annual event for the Shiv Sena.
The park was established in 1925 by the Bombay Municipal Corporation in the colonial era and was known as Mahim Park until 1927, when it was renamed after the 17th century Maratha king Shivaji.
The first Shiv Sena rally in Shivaji Park was held in 1966 following the inception of the political party, years before the party was registered in 1989.
In May 2010, the Bombay High Court declared the ground a silence zone following a 2009 petition by local residents, complaining about the noise pollution in the area on account of political rallies and gatherings. The court, however, later granted permission to the party to hold the rally in Shivaji Park from 2015 to 2019.
Thackeray's recent plea to the court had mentioned that it had filed an application before the BMC to hold the rally at Shivaji Park, after two years of the Covid-19 lockdown, but the party had received no reply from the civic body.
According to reports on September 2022, the BMC had denied both Thackeray and Shinde factions permission to hold Dussehra rallies at the contested spot.
Shivaji Park is important to the Shiv Sena not only because of the over five years of association with the grounds but also because Bal Thackeray gave some of his most important speeches here and was also cremated here.
In 2012, when the leader was very ill and was unable to address the Dussehra rally, a virtual recorded message was relayed through large screens at Shivaji Park. The park contains a small memorial that has been erected to mark the place of his cremation.
(With inputs from PTI)