An editorial in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, calling for the voting rights of Muslims to be revoked, poses a question to the Modi government. Though ties between the two parties have been strained since the Maharashtra assembly polls, the Sena remains a constituent of the NDA and is represented in the Modi cabinet. It also participates in Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis government. A BJP spokesperson has criticised the Saamna article, but no senior party leader has spoken against its ally’s rabidly communal comment.
The Saamna article urges that “the voting rights of Muslims should be revoked as the community has often been used for votebank politics”. Communities don’t constitute themselves into votebanks; it is political parties that address them in that manner, and the Sena’s career is defined by its crude efforts to carve out and manipulate a vote bank it can call its own. The Sena sees itself as the custodian of the interests of Maharashtrian Hindus and has laboured to woo the “Marathi manoos”. To that end, it has often indulged in Muslim bashing and its supremo, the late Bal Thackeray, was even stripped of his voting rights for delivering inflammatory speeches. Of course, the Sena’s political project has been challenged by the reality of native Marathi speakers, like other linguistic groups in India, being a differentiated political community. Its compulsively narrow political focus has also meant that the Sena has not been able to emerge as a truly regional party like the DMK or the TDP.
The immediate context for the Sena’s rhetoric may be the Fadnavis government’s recent focus on Hindutva issues, be it the beef ban or the decision to force multiplexes to give prime time slots to Marathi films. The emergence of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul- Muslimeen as a political force in Maharashtra — which may partly be feeding off the Sena’s agenda — also contributes to the Sena’s renewed bid at polarisation. Even amid growing evidence that India’s electorate is looking for an affirmative political agenda of change, Uddhav Thackeray’s outfit refuses to move on from the language of hoary resentment.