For the first time since the Shiv Sena's inception 56 years ago, two Dussehra rallies will be held in Mumbai on Wednesday evening by the party's rival factions -- led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his predecessor Uddhav Thackeray -- in what is being billed as a show of strength by both camps after a change in government in June.
Anticipating huge turnouts at the rallies of the Sena factions, the Mumbai Police have tightened security at the Shivaji Park and Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), an official said on Tuesday.
More than 5,000 buses, a number of small tourist vehicles and cars, and a special train have been roped in to ferry supporters of the two rival Shiv Sena factions for their respective Dussehra rallies, sources said.
The rallies have generated intense interest in political circles and also among common citizens and there will be more than just speeches by the two friends-turned-foes as the rival factions seek to present themselves as the 'real' Shiv Sena and try to claim the legacy of the party founder late Bal Thackeray.
While the Uddhav Thackeray faction will hold its rally at the historic Shivaji Park in Dadar in central Mumbai, a venue associated with the Shiv Sena since its inception in 1966, the rebel group led by Shinde has organised their event at the MMRDA ground at BKC in the suburbs.
The sprawling MMRDA ground is located close to 'Matoshree', the private residence of the Thackeray family in Bandra.
Both the camps have claimed they are taking forward the ideals of Bal Thackeray, who was known to make fiery speeches at the Dussehra rallies at Shivaji Park year after year till his death in 2012.
Since then, his son Uddhav Thackeray, a former CM who lost power in June following rebellion by his once trusted aide Shinde, had been addressing the annual event.
The Dussehra rally is being held at the Shivaji Park after a gap of two years due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Both sides have claimed their rallies will be a grand success with top leaders giving last minute touches to the preparations for the mega shows. On the ground, the areas in and around the two venues are awashed in saffron flags and banners.
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray is expected to launch attacks on the Shinde faction and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his former ally which is now part of the government in the state.
In his address, the chief minister is likely to target Uddhav Thackeray for "deviating" from the path of Hindutva and joining hands with his once rivals Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in November 2019.
Rebellion by Shinde against Uddhav Thackeray's leadership brought down the MVA government in June this year.
A senior Mumbai Police official said 3,200 officers,15,200 personnel, 1,500 personnel of the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF), 1,000 jawans of Home Guard, 20 Quick Response Teams (QRTs), 15 Bomb Detection and Disposal Squads (BDDS) have been deployed for the two rallies.
At BKC, 2,000 personnel of the Mumbai Police and traffic branch, 5 to 6 DCPs and 15 to 16 ACPs, will be on duty.
Sheetal Mhatre, a spokesperson for the Shinde camp, said 3.5 to 4 lakh people are expected to attend the rally at the MMRDA ground.
Arrangements for food and vehicle parking for those coming from outside the city have been made.
A railway official said a train has been booked for the Dussehra rally from Nanded city in central Maharashtra.
The train, booked by the Shinde faction, will arrive in Mumbai (Lokmanya Tilak Terminus) on Wednesday afternoon.
According to bus operators, the Shinde-led faction has hired at least 3,000 private buses from different districts of Maharashtra to ferry its supporters.
Besides, around 4,000 tourist cabs will bring supporters to the MMRDA ground, the sources said.
The Thackeray faction has booked 700 buses to bring rally participants to the Shivaji Park.
A bus operator said the buses booked by the Thackeray group will bring Sena workers and supporters mainly from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).
On the other hand, buses and other vehicles hired by the Shinde faction will arrive from various parts of Maharashtra.
Many activists of the rebel camp are using their personal vehicles to travel to the event site.
At least 1,700 state-run buses have been booked in various regions in Maharashtra, an official of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) told PTI, adding this will generate additional revenue for the cash-strapped corporation.
A large number of vehicles heading towards Mumbai led to traffic congestion at some locations on state highways.
The Mumbai traffic police have made necessary arrangements for the parking of scores of buses and other vehicles that will bring workers to the rallies.