Shivaji Park: From Sena's first rally to swearing-in of Uddhav, its been central to party's politics
Mumbai, Nov 27: From witnessing Shiv Sena's first rally in 1966 to the cremation of its founder Bal Thackeray, from the swearing-in of its first chief minister Manohar Joshi in 1995 to Udhhav Thackeray now, the Shivaji Park ground in Dadar has been central to the saffron party's politics for over five decades.
On Thursday, Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray will take oath as chief minister of Maharashtra at the historic ground, which has been a part of the city's social fabric. Since its inception, the ground has also seen the rise of the Shiv Sena through the four generations of the Thackerays -- Keshav, also known as Prabodhankar (social reformer), his son Bal Thackeray, Uddhav and Raj and heir apparent Aditya.
Envisaged under the Dadar-Wadala-Matunga-Sion-Mahim town planning scheme, the 28 acres playground in Dadar first came into existence in 1925-26. In 1927, it was renamed Shivaji Park on the birth anniversary of Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji, said Ashok Rawat, a resident of Shivaji Park since last eight decades.
The ground also hosts several sporting events -- from cricket and soccer to indigenous games like mallakhamb and kho-kho. Cricket legends Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli grew up playing at this ground. It was also home to meetings of freedom movements and also the Samkuktya Maharashta movement for statehood in the 1960s, of which Prabhodankar was a part of, Dhaval Kulkarni, author of "The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of their Senas" said.
Senior journalist Prakash Akolkar, the author of "Jai Maharashtra- Ha Shiv Sena Navacha Itihas Aahe" (The history of Shiv Sena), writes that on October 1966, when Thackeray addressed its first rally, the family was very apprehensive whether crowds would turn up for it. So, intelligently, the stage was erected in the middle of the ground. On the contrary, crowds filled the ground to the brim, Akolkar writes. Since then 'Shiv-tirth' -- the word used by Shiv Sena for the annual Dasara Melava (congregation) addressed by Thackeray and now Uddhav-- has been a pilgrimage centre for lakhs of party workers.
The Shiv Sena Bhawan, the party headquarters, is just a stone's throw away from Shivaji Park. When Manohar Joshi, the first Sena chief minister, took oath, Thackeray chose Shivaji Park as the venue and not the Raj Bhawan, so that the ceremony could be attended by lakhs of Shiv Sainiks. Aditya too was handed over the reins of Bhartiya Yuva Sena, the youth wing of the party on the same ground. When Thackeray died, he was cremated at this ground in presence of lakhs of party supporters-- his memorial is located there. Incidentally, Uddhav's cousin Raj also held the first rally of his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena at the Shivaji Park
. "The area around Shivaji Park is central to the Thackeray family. Prabodhankar stayed in Dadar. Marmik (the magazine launched by Thackeray after quitting his job as a cartoonist) was launched here. Thackeray, his brother and Raj's father Shrikant stayed here. Raj still stays there. "The yearly Dasara melava is held at Shivaji Park. So it plays an important role in Sena's history," Kulkarni said. There is also a buzz that Uddhav might contest from Mahim assembly seat which covers Shivaji Park.