In a bid to provide a fillip to party president Uddhav Thackeray’s visit to Ayodhya to push for the Ram mandir, the Shiv Sena has organized ‘maha aartis’ in all 288 assembly segments in the state.
The mass rituals could be viewed as a political snub to state ally BJP, who the Sena believes, has failed on the construction of Ram mandir front. It will also reassert the party’s claim as the original flag-bearer of Hindutva. Such maha aartis were organized in the run-up to the Ram temple movement in the 1990s. However, BJP has downplayed the Sena’s move, saying that ceremonies are a matter of faith for the party.
The series of aartis will be kicked off on Saturday, with one ritual being conducted on the banks of the Sarayu river in Ayodhya; Thackeray is expected to visit the controversial site on Sunday.
“Over the last four years,” says Thackeray’s press advisor Harshal Pradhan, “we have only been hearing of jumlas – from Rs 15 lakh to be deposited in the bank account of every citizen, to waivers for crop loans. However, nothing has happened. That’s why the Sena president is going to Ayodhya: To ask the government whether the construction of the Ram Temple is also a poll jumla. If yes, then he will announce the party’s resolve to build the temple in Ayodhya.”
He added that Hindus are quite emotional about the issue and want the construction to begin at the earliest. Shiv Sena has been reiterating its resolve to go solo in the upcoming Assembly elections, and hopes to lure BJP’s traditional Hindu vote bank by aggressively pursuing the issue.
“We welcome Shiv Sena’s plan, which the party believes will be crucial in strengthening the Hindutva cause,” said BJP’s state spokesman Keshav Upadhye, adding his party has been associated with the movement for 28 years and has paid the price for it.
State Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant termed the maha aartis a desperate attempt to win polls, saying the party cannot woo voters only by performance. “By raking up the Ram temple issue, Shiv Sena wants to squeeze more seats from BJP’s pie,” said Sawant.