In a shot in the arm for the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction, the Bombay High Court on Friday granted it permission to hold its annual Dussehra rally at the iconic Shivaji Park ground in central Mumbai.
For the Thackeray faction 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.
Welcoming the ruling, Thackeray appealed his supporters to maintain discipline while attending the rally on Dussehra.
Thackeray supporters celebrated the ruling outside the Sena's headquarters in Dadar, close to the Shivaji Park, as well as near Thackeray's residence Matoshree in Bandra and in neighbouring Thane.
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Kiran Pawaskar, spokesperson of the Shinde group, said they were contemplating moving the Supreme Court in appeal.
A division bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and Kamal Khata said in the ruling that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) decision not to grant permission to either Sena faction was a "clear abuse of the process of law." The Thackeray faction had challenged the BMC order before the court.
"The BMC order refusing permission merely on the ground that there was a second application filed to hold the rally at the same place is a clear abuse of the process of law," the order said.
The civic body "misused its power on a flimsy ground," the court remarked.
The BMC had on September 21 said it was refusing permission for the rally to both Thackeray and Shinde groups, because if permission was granted to one group, it would lead to law and order problems.
The corporation had also cited a report submitted by the local police station expressing this apprehension.
MLA Sada Sarvankar, who had sought permission from the BMC for the rally on behalf of the Shinde group, had also moved the HC opposing the Thackeray group's petition. The court should not decide the matter as the dispute as to who represents the real Sena was pending before the Supreme Court, he said.
The court rejected the application noting that Sarvankar had no "locus" (right) to intervene, and the present petition had nothing to do with the issue before the SC.
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy and advocate Joel Carlos, appearing for the Thackeray faction, had argued that it had the right to hold the rally at Shivaji Park as it was a long tradition.
They also cited a 2016 government order allowing Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park.
BMC's counsel Milind Sathe contended that nobody can claim to have such a right.
Uddhav Thackeray welcomed the court's decision and said his party's faith in the judiciary stood vindicated.
"We never stopped holding the congregation on Vijayadashmi at Shivaji Park since the inception of the party, except during the time of coronavirus pandemic. We are taking this tradition forward,” he told reporters.
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The Sena president appealed to Shiv Sainiks to maintain discipline during the Dussehra rally.
His son Aaditya Thackeray thanked the court and said the truth always prevails.
Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis said the administration will follow the court's orders.
Transport minister Uday Samant, who owes allegiance to the Eknath Shinde camp, said the next course of action will be decided after studying the high court's order.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar expressed happiness over the HC order. The Leader of Opposition in the Assembly noted that late Sena founder Bal Thackeray had started the tradition of holding the Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park.
"Balasaheb had said (his son) Uddhav Thackeray will lead the Sena after him and had asked Sainiks to stand by the latter," Pawar said.
The Shinde group has already obtained the BMC's permission for Dussehra rally at the MMRDA ground even though it vied to get Shivaji Park for the event.