Mumbai: It was not just any political celebrity's birthday bash. The gathering on Saturday in Matoshree - the traditional residence of the Thackerays, Maharashtra's numero uno political family - conveyed a clear message of the growing clout of the birthday boy.
Aditya Thackeray, the elder son of Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, was virtually anointed the party's crown prince.
More than an estimated 5,000 people gathered at Matoshree in Bandra East to meet and greet the beaming Aditya, standing beside his smiling parents, Uddhav and Rashmi and brother Tejas.
Among the visitors were top party leaders from Mumbai and other parts of the state, ministers, legislators and MPs, all jostling to ensure Aditya mentally registers their presence!
The cool, rainy and breezy ambience was suddenly shattered around noon when several hundred Muslims, attired in Pathan suits, dancing and playing huge drums, turned up to greet the 'prince' at the Matoshree gates.
"My members and leaders came from all over Maharashtra to wish Aditya on his 25th birthday... The music and dancing was our way of conveying our love for him," Haji Arafat Shaikh, president of the Shiv Vahatuk Sena (SVS), the Muslim face of Shiv Sena, who led the musical procession to Matoshree, told IANS.
Later, the visitors were treated to a lavish spread of lipsmacking vegetarian and non-vegetarian biryani, pedhas, barfis and sweetmeats besides other tasty cuisine for which they hungrily awaited their turn in snaky queues.
Earlier, the SVS organised a 'chadar' laying ceremony and distributing sweets at the Haji Ali dargah in Worli, followed by a special 'maha-aarti' at the famed Siddhi Vinayak Temple in Dadar before proceeding to greet Aditya.
SVS activists fed beggars at the Mahim dargah, and in Chembur and Pune, distributed laddoos to people in Shirdi, launched a year-long autorickshaw training scheme for women in Thane, and similar other celebratory programmes in 16 districts across Maharashtra, Shaikh said.
Aditya came into prominence five years ago when, under the tutelage of his grandfather, the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, he launched and headed the Yuva Sena, the young wing of the party.
He took up several high profile issues and agitations for the youth and students and gradually started building up a political profile for himself, especially after his father suffered some heart problems since 2012.
Around the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections in the state, on several occasions, he represented his father in crucial negotiations with the blowing-hot-and-cold ally, Bharatiya Janata Party, much to the chagrin of some of its leaders, besides campaingning in the state.
In the past few months, apparently in preparations for the ensuing crucial elections to the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Aditya has been burning the midnight oil, travelling across the city to ensure proper roads and cleanliness for an event-free monsoon.
A few months ago, he propounded unshackling Mumbai's night-life -- which suffered after the March 1993 serial bomb blasts -- to make it a 24x7 metro, at par with other cities like London, New York, Dubai et al.
A former senior leader of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Shaikh unabashedly calls Thackeray junior 'Prince Aditya' and "undoubtedly, the future leader of Shiv Sena".
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)