Maha conundrum: Here is why BJP must not align with the Uddhav Thackeray-led-Shiv Sena

Maha conundrum: Why BJP must not align with the Uddhav Thackeray-led-Shiv Sena?

The State of Maharashtra is going through a period of political turmoil with the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government set for an imminent collapse, barring a massive upset.

The ‘unholy alliance’ between the Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) can no longer hold on to the reins of power. More than 2/3rd MLAs of the Sena have deserted their chief Uddhav Thackeray for deviating from the ideals of the party’s founder Balasaheb Thackeray.

Not just the MLAs, even 60 Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) from Thane are set to join the rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde. This has left the Uddhav Thackeray camp in a state of panic.

The desperation to clutch onto their position of power has been such that even a loudmouth Sena leader such as Sanjay Raut has been forced to adopt a conciliatory tone.

“Shiv Sena is ready to step out of Maha Vikas Aaghadi. Your demand will be considered. Come back within 24 hours,” Raut was heard as saying. But, the rebel camp has insisted that the party must return to its natural ally i.e. the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Not until long ago, Raut had announced that the Shiv Sena would not side with the BJP even if offered the throne of Lord Indra. How will the firebrand leader now justify his sudden change of heart?

But more importantly, what awaits the political future for the State of Maharashtra? There are a number of possibilities, one of which is the alliance between the BJP and the Sena.

Shiv Sena of today is not the party of Balasaheb Thackeray

Two core issues bound the BJP and the Sena for several years. One was their mutual commitment to the cause of Hindutva and the other was their disdain for minority appeasement.

The Shiv Sena had failed on both fronts ever since they opportunistically sided with the ‘secular’ NCP and Congress in 2019. To keep its newfound allies content, the party had openly distanced itself from the ideals of Balasaheb Thackeray.

This became evident soon after Shiv Sena ditched its pre-poll ally i.e. BJP to make Uddhav Thackeray the Chief Minister, following the 2019 Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections.

As such, even the likes of Samajwadi Party legislator Abu Azmi, who abused Balasaheb Thackeray as ‘old and senile‘, was spotted alongside Uddhav Thackeray during Sena-NCP-Congress meet.

Prior to the elections, Uddhav Thackeray mouthed platitudes about how ditching the BJP would draw the wrath of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. “If Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj were present today, he would have severely punished us by pushing all of us from a mountain cliff if we betrayed the alliance,” he had famously said.

Shiv Sena immensely benefitted from its alliance with the BJP but was quick to jump ship when the opportunity presented itself. This was contrary to the values espoused by Balasaheb Thackeray during his lifetime.

According to Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat, the intention of the Sena was clear from the start. It wanted to keep the BJP out of power in Maharashtra and thus initiated the alliance with its arch-rival.

Undermining national interests over petty politics

Soon after becoming the Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray began dancing to the tunes of his allies. He assured the leaders of the Nationalist Congress party that cases against arrested ‘Dalit activists’, who actively participated in the Bhima Koregaon violence, will be dropped.

Shiv Sena inducted an MLA named Abdul Sattar into its extended cabinet, despite having labelled him as a close associate of gangster Dawood Ibrahim in the past. In a scathing article published in Saamana in 1994, Shiv Sena alleged that Sattar, who was then in Congress, was an accomplice of the 1993 Mumbai Bomb Blasts mastermind.

In January 2020, Thackeray had met ‘Muslim leaders’ opposed to both the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). One of the leaders happened to be the founder of Raza Academy, Alhaaj Saeed Noorie Sahab.

It may be recalled that the Islamist outfit had been at the forefront of several violent protests in the State of Maharashtra. During the 2012 Azad Maidan riots, extremists associated with the organisation vandalised the Amar Jawan Jyoti to protest against the alleged atrocities on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar.

In January 2020, students of the Mumbai University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and others who had assembled near the Gateway of India to condemn the violence that broke out in JNU. Interestingly, one protestor named Mehak Mirza Prabhu was seen holding a poster titled, ‘Free Kashmir.’

Although the usual suspects tried to trivialise the incident, those politically aware realised the sinister agenda behind such a poster. The idea was to call for the secession of Jammu and Kashmir from the Union of India while making it appear as a protest against the internet ban, following the abrogation of Article 370.

Shiv Sena, which has always been vocal about national integrity, tried to downplay the seriousness of the incident. Sanjay Raut had then suggested that the contentious poster did not actually mean ‘free Kashmir’ but only implied freedom from restrictions of internet services, mobile services and other issues.

Days after he attempted to whitewash secessionist forces, Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna claimed, “A Mumbaikar Marathi woman expressed the pain of Kashmiris silently through this poster. The opposition feels this is sedition. There can’t be a dirtier example of irresponsibility.”

In December of that year, the Mumbai police filed a ‘C Summary’ and dropped charges against the protestor, claiming that they found ‘no malicious motive.’

Shiv Sena Chief even trivialised the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which shook the conscience of the entire nation. He compared the ghastly terror attack that left 166 people dead to a clash between student groups in JNU.

The result of joining hands with so-called ‘secular forces’ had dented the values that were once espoused by Shiv Sena and its foot soldiers. This became evident when Shiv Sainiks brutally assaulted a navy veteran named Madan Sharma over a Whatsapp forward.

When the matter grabbed headlines, the party went into a damage control mode. Six goons associated with Shiv Sena were arrested but were released on bail within a few hours’ time.

The tokenism displayed by the Shiv Sena leadership, which once talked about reverence for armed forces, bolstered other party members to harass ex-servicemen. In January 2021, a former army officer named Sujit Aptehad moved the Bombay High Court, alleging threats to his life from Sena corporator Amey Ghole.

When Hindutva was put on the back burner

Throughout its history, Shiv Sena had held freedom fighter and ‘Father of Hindutva’ Veer Savarkar in high esteem. All of it changed once it joined hands with the NCP and Congress out of political opportunism.

This became evident when the Sena remained a mute spectator after All India Congress Seva Dal accused Savarkar of having a physical relationship with MK Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse.

Dismayed by the silence of the so-called Hindutva party, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis had remarked, “The tiger of the Sena which used to give orders from Matoshree has turned into a cat. It does not roar and only does Meow Meow.”

Not only that, but the cause of Ram Janmabhoomi was also deserted by the Sena. The party, which was once at the forefront of building a magnificent Ram Temple in Ayodhya, had claimed that the construction of the temple in Ayodhya could wait.

Sanjay Raut had stated that all issues such as “India, Pakistan, Ram Mandir” could be put on hold. While disrespecting the sentiments of Ram Bhakts, Uddhav Thackeray had even suggested that the Bhoomi Pujan for Ram Mandir should have been done via video conferencing.

From detaining Hindu devotees for celebrating Dahi Handi to falsely claiming that Kumbh Mela returnees would distribute Coronavirus as ‘prasad’, the Shiv-Sena-led Maharashtra government openly endorsed Hinduphobia.

The arrest of Navneet Rana and her husband Ravi Rana, for planning to chant Hanuman Chalisa, is still afresh in public memory. Shiv Sainiks had even defamed ‘Jai Sree Ram’ by staging a hate attack against an alleged ‘Nepali citizen.’ However, the matter reached a crescendo with Uddhav Thackeray resorted to ‘Gaumutra jibes.’

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“Those who cast aspersions on our government, themselves have their mouths filled with cow-dung and Gaumutra. They have been trying to sling cow-dung at us, in a desperate hope that it will stick but it did not because we are clean. It is them whose mouth and clothes reek of Gaumutra and cow-dung,” Uddhav Thackeray was heard as saying.

Islamists have often referred to Hindus as ‘cow urine drinkers’ or used ‘gau mutra’ jibes to derisively mock and insult them. The Pulwama terrorist attack was a watershed moment, given that the attack led to the death of 40 CRPF soldiers.

A video released in its aftermath saw the terrorist, responsible for the ghastly attack, spewing venom against Hindus and who sought to justify this hate by derogatorily referring to Hindus as ‘cow urine’ drinkers. 

If anything, the appalling stereotyping of Hindus by an Islamic terrorist who killed 40 Indian soldiers should have discouraged left-liberals and Shiv Sena from using the ‘gau mutra’ jibe.

How Muslim appeasement became the primary agenda of Shiv Sena

It is often said that ‘bad company ruins good morals’. Nothing can be truer in the case of Shiv Sena, which has been historically opposed to appeasement politics. One of the first agendas of the Shiv Sena-led- Maharashtra government was that of religion-based reservation (5% Muslim reservation in this case).

In a bid to not risk its alliance with ‘Muslim appeasing’ Congress and NCP, Sena leader Sanjay Raut had suggested that the persecuted minorities from the neighbouring Islamic countries (staying in India) must not be given voting rights even after being awarded Indian citizenship.

The ‘secular’ alliance of Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP had even vowed to not implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) in the State to pacify the Muslim community.

As time passed, the erstwhile Hindutva party became wary of ‘communal sensitivities’ and resorted to greater appeasement than its allies. In February 2020, senior Shiv Sena leader Arjun Khotkar demanded that the episodes of the Marathi TV series- “Swarajya Rakshak Sambhaji” be stopped from being aired on television.

Khotkar claimed the episodes in the series had the potential of inciting discord in society and therefore should not be transmitted on television.

“Swarajya Rakshak Sambhaji”, a popular Marathi series, chronicled the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s son Sambhaji Maharaj. Sambhaji reined over the Maratha Kingdom for 9 years until 1689 when he was captured, tortured and executed by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb.

Soon after, social media influencers such as Shefali Vaidya and Sunaina Holey were intimidated by Sena for speaking against the role of Tablighi Jamaat in endangering public health and safety.

From easing Covid-19 restrictions on Eid to demands of renaming the Ghatkopar-Mankhurd flyover after Moinuddin Chisti, the party founded by Balasaheb Thackeray found itself in deep waters.

Sena had also inducted the likes of Rahatmulla Khan alias Papa Khan, Indin Shaikh and Anawar Shaikh, who have been convicted for the murder of senior RPI leader Naresh Gaikwad.

The party crossed all limits of hypocrisy when it joined hands with the Islamic fundamentalist AIMIM, for Amravati Municipal Corporation Committee elections. AIMIM returned the favour by supporting the Sena in the recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections in Maharashtra.

AIMIM had placed demands such as the appointment of a minority member in MPSC, reservation for Muslims and increasing the income of the Maharashtra Wakf Board. This prompted even Raj Thackeray’s party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to call its ‘Hindutva’, a sham.

Recently, rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde put Uddhav Thackeray in the dock by questioning him about the reasons that stopped him from visiting the Holy city of Ayodhya.

BJP braved personal attacks from Sena

Besides, BJP leaders had to face personal attacks from its erstwhile ally Shiv Sena. For instance, the wife of the former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was publicly humiliated by the Shiv Sainiks.

In December 2019, the foot soldiers of the Sena held a crass demonstration during which they slapped the poster of Amruta Fadnavis with shoes and slippers. The act by Shiv Sena was done in response to a tweet wherein she criticised Uddhav Thackeray for abandoning the principles of his father.

In February this year, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya was attacked by Shiv Sena workers after he accused Sanjay Raut of making ₹100 crores illegally through the COVID care centre. Two months later, he alleged that a mob of 100 Shiv Sainiks assaulted him with stones, with the intention to kill him.

In April, another Maharashtra BJP leader named Mohit Kamboj alleged that Shiv Sena goons attacked his car in the Kalanagar area of Mumbai’s Bandra suburb. 

He claimed that the attack was an attempt to kill him as he had exposed corruption in the BMC (which is ruled by the Sena) and raised his voice against ‘corrupt ministers’ like Nawab Mallik.

“This was an attempt to kill me by Shiv Sena and Maharashtra CM, so as to suppress my voice. Will see what action will be taken by Mumbai Police. Everything is recorded on CCTV,” Kamboj had remarked.

Should the BJP trust the Sena again?

As evident from the above discussion, Uddhav Thackeray and his sidekick Sanjay Raut have abandoned the values and principles in their pursuit of power. The Sena under their leadership conveniently forgot that their electoral success has been the gift of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Political opportunism and cunningness have overshadowed the cause of ideology and integrity. Although desperation has made the duo soften their stance, the BJP cannot afford to trust them again for the damage they inflicted on the people’s mandate.

They have subverted nationalist interests, engaged in vicious appeasement politics, and mocked the beliefs of their core voters. It has aligned itself with parties with completely opposite ideologies such as the AIMIM and the Congress.

The Eknath Shinde-led-faction that has deserted the likes of Thackeray and Raut provides a glimpse of hope. Disillusioned by the party’s departure from its core values, they have vowed to uphold the principles of Balasaheb Thackeray.

For the rebel camp, there was absolutely no need to abandon the luxury of power. But, it was too much for them to take. Their ideology took them all the way to Guwahati to foment a political alternative.

For the BJP, this appears as the right thing to not be swayed by the shallow promises of Raut. The saffron party must work out a solution with Eknath Shinde to provide a stable government to the people of Maharashtra.

This article was originally published in Opindia on June 27, 2022 .