Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday said he considers Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar as his "idol", and asked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to refrain from "insulting" him.
He said the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance of three parties - Sena (UBT), Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - was formed to protect democracy and it was necessary to work unitedly for it.
Addressing a rally in the Muslim-dominated textile town of Malegaon in Nashik district of north Maharashtra, Thackeray also said that deliberate attempts were on to provoke Rahul Gandhi.
"Savarkar is our idol and his insult will not be tolerated if we have to fight together to protect our democracy. Savarkar suffered unimaginable torture in the Andaman cellular jail for 14 years. We can only read the sufferings. It is a form of sacrifice," he said.
''I want to tell Rahul Gandhi that we have come together to save our country's democracy and its Constitution. But you are deliberately being provoked. If we allow this time to get wasted, then democracy will cease to exist. 2024 will be the last election," he added.
Gandhi was disqualified from the Lok Sabha on Friday, a day after a court in Gujarat's Surat convicted him in a 2019 defamation case. Addressing a press conference in Delhi over his disqualification, Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said, "My name is not Savarkar, my name is Gandhi and Gandhi does not offer an apology to anyone".
Thackeray said he supported Gandhi for his Bharat Jodo Yatra.
"Rahul Gandhi spoke well at his press conference yesterday. He raised valid questions about whom does Rs 20,000 crore belong. But the government doesn't want to answer," he said.
During his press conference on Saturday, Gandhi said the moot questions remain that who invested Rs 20,000 crore in Adani shell firms and what is the businessman's relationship with the prime minister.
Targeting the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Thackeray alleged that those who have no connection with the country's freedom movement were attempting to finish off democracy.
Thackeray, who was addressing his second rally here after Khed in Ratnagiri district since losing the party name and symbol to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, said he was fighting to save democracy and freedom.
"The fight is not about me becoming the chief minister again," he said.
Thackeray also said NCP leader Anil Deshmukh's six-year-old granddaughter was questioned by probe agencies and even Lalu Prasad Yadav's pregnant daughter-in-law was quizzed till she fainted.
"If you criticise those in power, police will be after you," he said.
"Modi is not India. Did our freedom fighters lay down their lives for this?" he asked.
The former CM wondered how good and honest people in the BJP were tolerating the corrupt people brought into their fold from other parties.
Hitting out at CM Shinde, Thackeray said he doesn't regret losing the chief minister's post, but a government doing good work was shamelessly toppled.
"Farmers are facing a lot of hardships and the Shinde government is doing nothing to ease their problems," he alleged.
Thackeray said he has been robbed of his party's name and symbol, but traitors can never rob him of the love and affection of the people.
He said his government has taken several steps for the development of the textile sector in Malegaon and farmers and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"During the pandemic, I had spoken to the religious heads in Malegaon and everyone here cooperated with the government initiatives to control the spread of the virus," he said.
Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.