In a major climbdown, Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday tendered an apology for a cartoon which was interpreted as ridiculing the Maratha community.
The controversial cartoon, which took a swipe at the ongoing month-long agitations and huge protest marches by the Maratha community, had appeared in the September 25 editions of 'Saamana' and 'Dopahar Ka Saamana'.
Thackeray's apology came after cartoonist Shreenivas Prabhudesai apologised for the cartoon, which had unleashed a wave of anger and protests among the powerful Maratha community of the state.
"Although the cartoon was not targeted at any community, if it has hurt the sentiments of any person, my (Maratha) mothers and sisters, I apologise for it," he said.
He further said he was apologising as the son of the late Sena founder-patriarch Bal Thackeray, as the President of the party and as the Editor of the group publications.
"Though the storm over the cartoon has passed, the surge in my mind has not yet ebbed. So, I am apologising," Thackeray told mediapersons here on Saturday afternoon.
He said there was no intention to hurt anybody's sentiments, but rued that even after the controversy died down, a conspiracy continued to "finish off the Sena and Saamana" from different quarters.
Thackeray also officially denied speculation that several of his party MPs and MLAs belonging to the Maratha community had resigned or threatened to quit in the wake of the cartoon controversy.
Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of Congress pounced on the development, terming it as "belated wisdom dawning on Thackeray".
"He appeared narrow-minded even in the apology. Why only say sorry to 'mothers and sisters' when he should have apologised to the entire Maratha community? He is worried that nobody will turn up at his annual Dussehra rally," Vikhe-Patil attacked.
The Sena chief said that he had met and discussed the issue of Maratha reservations with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
"Though he is committed to Maratha reservations, it is not clear when it will come. I have demanded a special session of the Maharashtra legislature to resolve this issue," Thackeray said.
Playing on words about the "silent processions" (mook morchas), the cartoon showed a couple kissing with the caption "mooka (kiss) morcha", which enraged the Marathas in the state.
It sparked outrage among various political parties and prompted an attack by the Maratha pressure group, Sambhaji Brigade, on Saamana's printing press in Sanpada in Navi Mumbai and its editorial offices in Thane, and its copies were burnt in Aurangabad.