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Ahead of Shah's Mumbai visit, Shiv Sena witnesses another faction war over Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park


MUMBAI: Union Home Minister Amit Shah will visit Mumbai during the upcoming Ganesh festival and is expected to meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis here, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader said on Monday.

The 10-day Ganesh festival begins on August 31 and the visit of Shah, a key BJP strategist, comes ahead of the crucial polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) expected in September or October.

The BJP is aiming to wrest control of the BMC from the Shiv Sena, which ruled the cash-rich civic body till an administrator was appointed earlier this year due to a delay in holding polls.

Shah is expected to visit the pandal of Lalbaugcha Raja, one of the oldest and popular Ganesh mandals in Mumbai, during the tour besides holding meetings with key BJP leaders, he said.

"He is most likely to visit Mumbai on September 5. If there are some changes in his tour, Shah would advance his meetings by a day," said the BJP leader from Maharashtra.

"The official tour plan has not been communicated to the state headquarters of the party. However, verbal communication has confirmed Shah's meetings with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis," he said.

The Shinde-led government, which took office in June-end, is being supported by the BJP.

BJP president J P Nadda is also expected to visit Mumbai in mid-September and his tour would mostly focus on the party's campaign strategy for the BMC polls.

Meanwhile, former Thane mayor and a spokesperson for the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena Naresh Mhaske on Monday slammed the Uddhav Thackeray group for seeking permission from authorities for its annual Dussehra rally at Mumbai's Shivaji Park.

He said the Thackeray faction had forgotten the principles and ideology of founder late Bal Thackeray and, therefore, had no right to organise the rally.

The annual Dussehra rally of the Sena is among the major political events of the state and was known for the fiery speeches of Bal Thackeray.

"They (Thackeray faction) have forsaken the teachings of Balasaheb Thackeray.

So what right do they have to hold the Dussehra rally now? It is Chief Minister Eknath Shinde who is taking forwards the Hindutva ideology of Balasaheb Thackeray," Mhaske claimed.

Queried by reporters on whether the Shinde faction would make a move to organise the Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park, Mhakse said this decision would be taken by the chief minister.

"You will come know. It is our right," he added.

Earlier in the day, Thackeray had asserted that his party would hold the annual rally.

"Shiv Sainaiks have begun preparation to come to the Shivaji Park from different parts of the state. The Shiv Sena's annual congregation will take place at Shivtirth (the term Sena uses for Shivaji Park)," the former Maharashtra chief minister said.

Uddhav Thackeray on Monday asserted that the party's annual Dussehra rally will be held at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Thackeray's remarks came against the backdrop of his faction not yet getting a nod from the Mumbai civic body for the rally, a decades-old political event held by the Sena in the sprawling Shivaji Park and synonymous with the fiery speeches of party founder late Bal Thackeray.

This will be the first Dussehra rally of the Shiv Sena after the split in the party in June this year.

The revolt by a group of Sena legislators had led to the collapse of the Thackeray-led government.

On Saturday, Uddhav Thackeray's son and former state minister Aaditya Thackeray said authorities were not accepting an application from the Shiv Sena to hold its annual Dussehra rally.

Dussehra will be celebrated on October 5 this year.

Talking to reporters on Monday, Uddhav Thackeray said Shiv Sainaiks have begun preparation to come to the Shivaji Park from different parts of the state.

"The Shiv Sena's annual congregation will take place at Shivtirth (the term Sena uses for Shivaji Park)," the former Maharashtra chief minister said.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was controlled by the Shiv Sena from 1997 till March this year when the tenure of corporators ended and polls could not take place.

The civic body is currently governed by an administrator.

After the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in June, rebel Sena leader Eknath Shinde was sworn in as the chief minister and BJP's Devendra Fadnavis as deputy CM.

On Saturday, Aaditya Thackeray said, "The Shiv Sena is seeking permission for holding its annual Dussehra rally in Mumbai but authorities are not accepting our application.

This (Eknath Shinde dispensation) is a repressive government."

Meanwhile,  Maharashtra minister Sandipan Bhumre on Monday claimed "two-three" MLAs from the Uddhav Thackeray faction are expected to join the group of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.

Speaking to Marathi news channel 'ABP Majha', Bhumre, however, refused to divulge names of those expected to jump ship and join Shinde.

"Two three MLAs from the Uddhav Thackeray faction are in touch with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. I won't mention names but can say they are from Konkan and Marathwada," the minister of employment guarantee said.

He also claimed almost all chiefs of district units of the Shiv Sena, barring one or two, were in touch with the Shinde faction and "would keep joining" from here on.

Queried on the tweet of Ambadas Danve, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council and part of the Thackeray camp, on empty chairs at a recent event in Paithan, Bhumre said it was a blood donation camp.

"It was a blood donation camp and I didn't appeal to people to come for the event. The opposition will see the overwhelming response of people when CM Eknath Shinde comes to Paithan after Ganpati festival," he claimed.