Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday dared the Bharatiya Janata Party to defeat it in the ensuing Mumbai civic polls, saying his party's bond with the city was unbreakable, and also hit out at Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde over his rebellion and for laying claims to his late father's legacy.
He also accused the BJP of "lying" on the Rs 1.54 lakh crore Vedanta-Foxconn semiconductor project which has been shifted to Gujarat.
A blame-game erupted in Maharashtra following the announcement last week that the joint venture semiconductor project of Indian conglomerate Vedanta and Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn, proposed to be set up near Pune city earlier, will come up in Gujarat now.
Addressing party workers at suburban Goregaon, Thackeray said the Centre is giving huge incentives to the project after it was moved to the adjoining BJP-ruled state.
He said, "Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asked his party to show the Shiv Sena its place in the Mumbai civic polls. I dare you to try it. Shiv Sena's relationship with the city was unbreakable and the party was deeply connected with the day-to-day life of ordinary Mumbaikars, rushing to their help whenever required."
Thackeray asked the BJP, his former ally, to tell people what was its contribution in building the metropolis apart from considering it just a piece of real estate.
Hitting out at the BJP for targeting him on dynastic politics, the former chief minister said, "I am proud of my family who took part in the Sanyukta (united) Maharashtra movement."
"If saving lives is corruption, we have done it," he said, referring to the BJP's allegations of corruption during the pandemic when the Shiv Sena-led ruling coalition was at the helm in the state.
The Sena leader said during the coronavirus pandemic his government's entire focus was on saving lives of patients and upgrading health infrastructure.
"During the pandemic, when you were demanding reopening of places of worship, I was focusing on saving lives, upgrading health facilities. If that is a crime, I am ready to face punishment. Kamalabai (BJP’s symbol of lotus) may not acknowledge the work done during the pandemic, but others have," he said, hitting out at his former ally.
Targeting the BJP over graft, Thackeray said, "The BJP makes allegations of corruption against people and then inducts them into the party fold and cleanses them."
"I am surprised at PM (Narendra) Modi. Didn't he find anyone else to get rakhi tied to his wrist other than the woman MP against whom his own party men had levelled corruption allegations," he said referring to Shiv Sena parliamentarian Bhavana Gawali, who has switched sides and joined the rebel camp led by Chief Minister Shinde.
The Supreme Court's decision on the Shiv Sena split will show whether or not democracy is alive in the country, he said.
The rival Sena factions are locked in a bitter legal battle over the party symbol and changing sides by MLAs.
In a dig at Shinde, Thackeray said, "When I came on the stage here, I first checked whether my father's (Sena founder Bal Thackeray) picture was there. We have heard of child kidnapping gangs, but for the first time there is a father kidnapping gang."
Shinde, who raised a banner of revolt against Uddhav Thackeray's leadership in June and walked away with 39 party MLAs, has repeatedly claimed his faction was the "real" Shiv Sena and that he was taking forward the Hindutva ideology of Bal Thackeray.
"The Thackeray family is the Shiv Sena. How can you finish it off? Don't dare to provoke us. How can you finish off so many family members?" Thackeray asked, pointing to party cadres gathered at the NESCO Grounds in suburban Goregaon.
On the dais, a chair was kept vacant for Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who is currently in jail over money laundering charges.
"He is fighting...he will not surrender," Thackeray said, referring to his close aide.
Consider the Mumbai civic polls as the first election of your life and fight it with full might, the Sena president told party workers.
"PM Modi will be in Mumbai for (campaigning in) the Mumbai civic body polls, the rebel Shiv Sena legislators, the Union home minister and central probe agencies are there. We are waiting for this kind of battle," he said.
The former CM said the Shiv Sena draws support from different sections of society.
"You can try Hindu-Muslim, Marathi-non-Marathi divide. Muslims support the Shiv Sena, non-Maharashtrians support the Shiv Sena," he said.
Elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the country's richest civic body, are due by the yearend. The Shiv Sena has ruled the BMC for more than two decades and the civic body is currently under a state government-appointed administrator.
The BJP, which is part of the Shinde-led government in the state, has been trying for long to dislodge the Shiv Sena from the BMC.