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Thursday, September 24, 2020

BJP seeks to play both sides, calibrates signals on Rajput and Kangana

The BJP's posturing on both the Rajput suicide and the Ranaut vs Sena spat appears to be targeted at whipping up the North Indian identities of the two actors ahead of the Bihar Assembly election, while sullying the image of its estranged ally in Maharashtra.

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai | Updated: September 11, 2020 7:33:22 am
kangana ranaut, kangana ranaut property demolished, Bombay high court kangana ranaut, kangana ranaut news, kangana ranaut latest news,The BMC Wednesday demolished parts of Kangana Ranaut's Pali Hill property in Bandra.

Mindful that its aggressive cry of “Justice for Sushant Singh” in Bihar could trigger a backlash in Maharashtra where the Shiv Sena has portrayed the campaign as being anti-Maharashtra, anti-Marathi, and anti-Mumbai and its police, the BJP has been taking a nuanced line on actor Kangana Ranaut — distancing itself from her “Mumbai is PoK” statement, while condemning the demolition of parts of her office in Bandra on Wednesday.

“We never supported her remark equating Mumbai to PoK. Nobody can support. But the government’s vengeance to carry out demolition of her bungalow was not fair,” former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said.

Read | No need to worry in Mumbai, Union Minister Ramdas Athawale tells Kangana Ranaut

Clear directives have been issued to party leaders to make that distinction while speaking in support of Ranaut. Almost half a dozen BJP leaders have been deployed to counter the Sena in the ongoing verbal duel over developments related to Ranaut and Rajput.

The political weaponisation of the Rajput case by the BJP has given rise to speculation that another ‘Operation Lotus’ – an expression used in political circles to refer to BJP attempts at breaking other parties to grab power – could be on the way.

Narayan Rane, formerly of the Sena but who is now in the BJP, has demanded Governor’s rule in Maharashtra and made innuendo-heavy statements on the deaths of Rajput and, a week previously, a Bollywood publicist. On social media, troll armies have targeted Shiv Sena scion Aditya Thackeray.

Read | Kangana’s office demolition justified, says BMC as HC adjourns matter till Sept 22

BJP general secretary Shrikant Bharatiya told The Indian Express: “The BJP is a pan Indian party. Whatever position it has taken in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput is based on merit. Similarly, it has not owned Kangana Ranaut’s statement equating Mumbai to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. But when the government demolished her office to settle political scores, the BJP raised pertinent questions on its action.”

The BJP’s posturing on both the Rajput suicide and the Ranaut vs Sena spat appears to be targeted at whipping up the North Indian identities of the two actors ahead of the Bihar Assembly election, while sullying the image of its estranged ally in Maharashtra.

From Explained | What constitutes a breach of the legislature’s privilege?

The appointment of Fadnavis as the Prabhari or in-charge of the Bihar elections, would suggest this link. Bharatiya, however, said: “Fadnavis is among the most capable leaders, and his deployment to a poll-bound state is part of the BJP’s tradition. It does not mean that he will be confined to Bihar or that he is out of Maharashtra.”

While BJP insiders claimed the Sena’s reactions against Ranaut suggested panic, it seemed on the ground that the Sena, NCP and Congress had only come closer together against the BJP.

The partners in the ruling coalition co-ordinated on the floor of the Assembly during the two-day session earlier this week to pass resolutions against Ranaut and Republic TV head Arnab Goswami for denigrating Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, and the police forces of Maharashtra and Mumbai. Members of the Sena have also accused the BJP of seeking to destroy the pre-eminence of Mumbai, and to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra.

Read | After Kangana, Manish Malhotra gets BMC notice over unauthorised construction

After being chided by Pawar for giving Ranaut “publicity” however, both the NCP and Sena have lowered the rhetoric.

“The people of Maharashtra look at this Kangana Ranaut episode as entertainment. It has no value beyond that. The people of Maharashtra think that all this is going on for Bihar elections. There is nothing beyond that to this issue,” Maharashtra NCP president Jayant Patil said.

And the Sena said that the Ranaut chapter was closed, and that the responsibility for the demolition of her premises lay with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

“The issue pertains to the BMC. Although the Sena is ruling in the BMC, there is a legal department in the BMC. The Mayor or BMC commissioner can speak on the demolition,” Sanjay Raut, the Sena’s chief spokesperson, said. “It is a closed chapter for us. We have forgotten about it and have gone back to normal social and political activities.”

Read | As Ranaut slams BMC ‘Babar ki army’, High Court stays ‘mala fide’ demolition

The BJP has countered the Sena’s allegations by claiming that the best days of Mumbai were when Fadnavis was CM.

“The ruling coalition has reverted to their old charge that we are anti-Mumbai. We have been hearing this for decades. But Shiv Sena should know that it was Congress which wanted to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra. The Congress leaders wanted Mumbai to be a Union Territory. Surprisingly, the Sena is in alliance with Congress for power,” senior BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar said.

While recognising the Shiv Sena and NCP’s attempts to raise the flag of Marathi pride, the BJP is aware that Mumbai is home to a very large North Indian population, with whom a “pro-North Indian” posture may find resonance. Even when the party was allied to the Sena, it worked for the non-Marathi votes in Mumbai.

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