The Shiv Sena forcing the cancellation of a concert by Pakistan ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali is being seen as an attempt by the party to revert to its anti-Pakistan formula to return to centrestage ahead of the civic polls, when ally Bharatiya Janata Party is dominating the electoral politics and heading governments at the centre and in Maharashtra. The Sena is known for often striking an anti-Pakistan or pro-Marathi stance to display political aggression.
However, the Sena’s timing of the anti-Pak rhetoric and the party selectively targeting Pakistani artistes raised questions.
The BJP striking a hard bargain in seat sharing for Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation polls is believed to have Sena leaders worried about ceding ground to the BJP in the civic polls across the state. The polls to the BMC, where the Sena now rules, will be in early 2017.
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Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said, “Cultural ties cannot be seen in isolation when Pakistan is ruthlessly killing Indian soldiers.”
The Sena has not opposed Ghulam Ali’s performance in Mumbai or elsewhere in the country in the last ten years. In April 2015, Ghulam Ali had performed at Sankat Mochan Sangeet Mahotsav organised in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency in Varanasi. Modi could not attend the concert due to his pre-scheduled work. Later, he met Ghulam Ali and expressed his admiration for the ghazal maestro.
In 2007, Ghulam Ali held a special concert on the birth anniversary of late BJP leader at Shanmukhanada Hall.
The records from the concert shows Ghulam Ali rendering a special number on India-Pakistan friendship titled, Aao milkar aur bikharaya; dono ka sangam karvaye (Let us unite both the nations through melody.)”
One of the verses to strengthen Indo-Pak friendship ran thus: “Udhar hain chaand, idhar hain tiranga; udhar hain zamzam, idhar hain Ganga.”
A senior BJP functionary said, “Sena is a separate party with its own agenda. It is for them to explain their flip-flop.” The BJP did not support the Sena’s decision.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis snubbed the Sena, saying, “It is unfortunate. Why drag culture into Indo-Pak politics?”
A senior Shiv Sena cabinet minister said, “Anti-Pakistan or pro-Marathi plank is our base. And we are sustaining our agenda of national interest. It helps to address our constituents ahead of elections to local bodies in Kolhapur and Kalyan Dombivali. It sets the pitch for the big battle BMC in early 2017.”
The Sena is propping up Thackeray’s Hindutva agenda against BJP’s Modi. Sources in the Sena disclosed, “Hardline against Pakistan works to our advantage.”
The Sena did not explain why it selectively targeted artistes. For instance, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan had performed in September in Mumbai.
The Sena had also faced criticism for double standards for hosting former Pakistan cricketer Javed Miandad at Matoshree, the home of the Thackerays. The late Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s passion for cricket was no secret, and he had often lauded Miandad’s cricket skills.