Mumbai: Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday made a strong pitch for a Ram temple in Ayodhya and demanded enactment of a special law to facilitate its construction, while he justified his decision to ally with the BJP for the October 21 Maharashtra assembly elections.
Making a slew of announcements ahead of the polling, he said the Shiv Sena is committed to providing reservation in jobs and education to the Dhangar (shepherd) community and will also fight for the rights of "India-loving" Muslims.
In his 35-minute-long speech at the Sena's annual Dussehra rally in Shivaji Park in central Mumbai, Thackeray spoke on a range of issues, from Article 370 to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
"Courts have a holiday on the day when Lord Ram killed Ravan (on Dussehra). Courts are also closed the day when Ram returned to Ayodhya (on Diwali) after killing Ravan. The only issue of contention now is whether Ram was born in Ayodhya," he said.
He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had advised not to speak on the Ram temple issue as the the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. "The Supreme Court verdict is expected this month, but our demand remains that a special law be enacted for construction of a Ram mandir in Ayodhya," he said.
Speaking at a rally in Nashik last month, Modi, in an apparent jibe at ally Shiv Sena, had said the Supreme Court is hearing the Ram mandir case and asked "some loudmouths" to refrain from making statements on the issue.
"I am amazed at the 'bayan bahadurs and badbole' (loudmouths) on the Ram Mandir issue. Every one in the country respects the Supreme Court. The apex court is hearing the case. I want to tell these people with folded hands to have faith in the judicial system," Modi had said.
Speaking at the Dussehra rally, Thackeray said his party is not the raising the issue of Ram temple for politics or electoral gains.
"We are committed to the construction of the temple. When we got our bow and arrow symbol, the issue of Ram mandir wasn't there," he said to drive home the point that the sensitive matter was above politics for the party.
Thackeray sought to dispel the notion that the Shiv Sena had "surrendered" while entering into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP for the assembly polls.
Of the 288 seats, the BJP is contesting 164 and the Shiv Sena 124, establishing the latter as a junior ally in a state where it was once the senior coalition partner. "The Shiv Sena doesn't bow before anyone except Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Marathi-speaking people," he asserted.
"We did make some compromises for the alliance to happen, but they were in the interest of Maharashtra. I apologise to Shiv Sainiks whose seats have gone to the allies".
"You have to continue working hard to make the party strong and work to ensure its victory," he said, seeking to assuage the feelings of those left out in ticket race and to ensure they don't work against official alliance nominees.
In an apparent reference to the BJP, Thackeray said no one should even dare to betray Shiv sainiks.
"Chhatrapati Shivaji's Maharashtra doesn't kowtow before anyone. The Shiv sainik is my sword. I will not give strength to the Congress which opposed scrapping of Article 370 (which accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir) and wanted to repeal sedition laws," he said.
Thackeray said there was a vast difference between the Sena-BJP alliance and the SP-BSP tie-up in Uttar Pradesh.
"Ours in a genuine alliance, while the SP-BSP pact was solely for the lust of power so people rejected it," the Sena president said.
Hitting out at the Congress-NCP combine, Thackeray mocked senior Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde for his remarks that the two opposition parties are now tired as separate entities and should come together.
"First decide who is your leader - (NCP president) Sharad Pawar or (Congress chief) Sonia Gandhi because of whom the NCP was formed. Don't be tired.
"Keep yourself fresh to have our victory pedas (sweets)," he said, expressing confidence about the saffron front's win in the polls.
After Article 370, construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and enactment of a Uniform Civil Code should be next on agenda of the government, Thackeray said.
Taking potshots at NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who recently got emotional at a press conference, the Sena chief said he was merely shedding crocodile tears.
Speaking about the opposition charge that the BJP-led government was acting out of revenge, reflected in an ED case against Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit, he said in 2000, the then Congress-NCP government had acted out of revenge by arresting his father, Bal Thackeray, in a 10-year-old riot case.
Thackeray also criticised the Congress-NCP combine over their manifesto promising 80 per cent reservation in jobs to local youth.
"When Shiv Sena fought for the rights of the Marathi youth, the Congress government had punished Shiv Sainiks with lathis," Thackeray said.
He said on being voted to power, the Sena will ensure loan waiver for farmers, 'thali' of nutritious food at Rs 10 for the poor, reduce electricity rates for consumption up to 300 units, start health check-up at Re one and launch special bus services for women.
Thackeray said this year Vijayadashmi is being celebrated on two days - October 8 and October 24 (when assembly election results will be announced.