Like Raj Thackeray’s rally, which is expected to see some saber-rattling, Thackeray Sr too had used the Aurangabad stage in 1988 to play his hardline Hindutva card. The Sena leader had exhorted people to choose between Khan (the catch-all polarizing term to represent Muslims) and Baan (the Sena’s poll symbol of bow and arrow).
By the 1980s, the Shiv Sena under Bal Thackeray’s leadership had already established itself as a militant force in Mumbai and Thane, and the Aurangabad rally helped the party plant its feet in the Marathwada region.
In the ensuing Aurangabad Municipal Corporation polls, the Shiv Sena won 27 seats out of 60. Despite being the single largest party, the Shiv Sena could not come to power as the Congress and Muslim League joined hands to stake claim to power. The Congress appointed Dr Shantaram Kale as mayor, with Taki Hassan of the Muslim League as deputy mayor.
Bal Thackeray, however, went ahead and took out a victory rally to mark the Sena’s surprise performance in the municipal polls, during which he called for Aurangabad to be named as Sambhajinagar after Sambhaji, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s son who is said to have died at the hands of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
The Aurangabad rally helped the Sena spread its Hindutva politics beyond Mumbai. In the Lok Sabha elections the following year, the party won four seats. Of these, two were from the Marathwada region—Aurangabad and Parbhani.
Whether by coincidence or design, 34 years later, the MNS has selected the same city — and the venue — to take forward its hardline Hindutva.
MNS general secretary and Raj Thackeray’s cousin Shalini Thackeray said, “MNS is pursuing its own politics and agenda. We are not emulating any party or leader. At our internal meetings held over the past few months, it was felt that the MNS president should not confine all his rallies to Mumbai. By holding rallies across the state, we can not only reach out to our workers in different cities and regions but also to a wider segment of people.”
The MNS has deployed a strong team of workers led by Raj Thackeray’s son Amit to ensure elaborate preparations for the May 1 rally that the MNS chief is scheduled to address at 8 pm. The choice of the date is not without significance — the state of Maharashtra was created on May 1, 1960.
The MNS will have to walk a tightrope considering the heavy police deployment and the 13 conditions put forward by the Aurangabad police for the rally, including that care should be taken not to hurt the feelings of other religions.
On the content of Raj Thackeray’s speech, a party source said, “He will speak his mind. He has already raised the issue of loudspeakers. Aurangabad is a city where the subject will strike a chord.”
At 30 to 35 per cent, the city has a sizable population of Muslims. AIMIM candidate Imtiaz Jaleel won the Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 general elections, defeating senior Shiv Sena leader Chandrakant Khaire.
Jaleel has invited Raj Thackeray to join him for an iftar before the MNS chief heads for his rally.
“Raj Thackeray is our guest in Aurangabad. I invited him to join us for iftar,” Jaleel said.
The MNS has not reacted to the AIMIM offer.