The Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s demolition drive at Kangana Ranaut’s Mumbai office may have been put on hold by the High Court but it brought to the fore cracks in ruling coalition again.
Nationalist Congress President Sharad Pawar Tuesday broke ranks with ally Sena to question the BMC’s action. “I don’t know if there was anything illegal (about the office)…It won’t be appropriate to comment on this without having proper information. Illegal construction isn’t a new thing in Mumbai. In view of the prevalent situation, the BMC’s actions give space to raise doubt in people’s minds. However, BMC has its own rules and officers may have found it appropriate to take the action,” Pawar said.
Without naming the actor or the Sena, Pawar said that “undue importance” had been given to her statements.
Indeed, over the last 10 days, Ranaut and Sena have been trading barbs. Linking the Sushant Singh Rajput death to nepotism in Bollywood and a drugs mafia, she slammed the Mumbai Police saying it didn’t make her feel secure and the city felt like Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Sena’s spokesman Sanjay Raut hit back asking her to leave the city and Sena members held protests after which she was given Y security by the Centre.
It’s this face-off – that has acquired a clear political BJP versus the rest tone — that framed the BMC’s demolition move today.
At one level, the attack by the BJP on the state government’s handling of the Sushant Singh Rajput case has also forced the three parties to close ranks. They coordinated with each other to bring in a controversial privilege motion against Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami as well as Ranaut.
But nine months into the coalition government, the tension within is unmistakable and the Ranaut-Sena faceoff is the latest point of friction.
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Late in the evening, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Pawar and Raut had a meeting. Sources said they discussed the government’s strategy on the Maratha reservation issue after the apex court stayed its implementation but, clearly, Pawar’s disquiet found an echo in a section of the Congress, too.
“She (Ranaut) should have been ignored…(this is) unnecessarily giving her a handle,” a senior Congress minister in the Thackeray government told The Indian Express. Another senior leader said: “It’s a self-goal.”
Former Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam did not mince words. “Sitting in Government you cannot do such things. It is sending a very wrong message. She (Ranaut) may be in contact with the BJP, she may be doing all this at the instance of the BJP, but why are you, a political party and that, too, a ruling party falling into such a trap? I cannot remain silent. It looks cheap.”
“Appalled as a Mumbaikar with the state of affairs in the economic capital of India. Maharashtra is Covid-19’s ground zero. Instead of focusing on governance, we’re busy settling political scores. Time for all parties to come together and set our priorities right,” tweeted Milind Deora, another former Mumbai Congress president.
Given the onslaught Thackeray is facing from the BJP, Pawar’s statement suggesting that the Sena possibly erred in handling the Ranaut incident has come as a jolt to the restive leadership.
Over the past few months, there has been discontent at the grass roots: Sena’s Parbhani MP Sanjay Jadhav threatened to quit as an MP due to his conflict with the NCP over the latter’s interference in appointments to the Agriculture Produce Market Committee; Raut even took a swipe at Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar alluding that he was responsible for the spike in Covid 19 numbers in Pune.
The Kangana Ranaut-Sena faceoff goes back to August 30 when the actor tweeted that she was scared of the Mumbai Police and preferred security from the Centre.
A day later, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna, said the actor was being “treacherous” in criticising the police force of a city where she makes a living and that she should not live in Mumbai if she felt unsafe here.
“Sanjay Raut… has given me an open threat and asked me not to come back to Mumbai after Aazadi graffitis in Mumbai streets and now open threats, why Mumbai is feeling like Pakistan occupied Kashmir,” Ranaut tweeted on September 3. The graffiti was a reference to slogans written during the anti-CAA protests.
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