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The question at Vijayadashami rallies in Maharashtra: Who moved my Hindutva?

Girish Kuber writes: Both rallies underlined the same point — the political narrative revolves around one party: The BJP

It seems almost impossible for any political outfit to bypass or ignore the BJP. As a result, what happened at these two rallies was that even as Uddhav Thackeray was seen trying to take his battle to the BJP, Chief Minister Shinde, instead of marketing himself, was seen defending the BJP. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

In the impending winter of political discontent, saffron seems to be the colour of the season in Maharashtra. As Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his yet another loyalist-turned-rebel, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, are locked in a bitter battle over who represents the real Shiv Sena, it is amusing to note that both factions are grappling with the same question: Who moved my Hindutva?

Ever since Eknath Shinde, supported by the BJP, pulled the rug from under Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray’s feet, Maharashtra has been witnessing a fierce political battle that, at times, has bordered on absurdity. Vijayadashami rallies organised by both sides were spectacular examples of this farce.

It started with a fight over the venue. Shivaji Park, an open space in the otherwise congested central Mumbai, has been a political barometer since pre-independence. A leader is considered worth his clout only if he earns full house at Shivaji Park. Actually, there is nothing that resembles a park. As its name suggests, Shivaji Park ground is the birthplace of the Shiv Sena. Even before that, soon after Independence, it was here that Prabodhankar Thackeray, Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s father, along with many other eminent Maharashtrians, launched the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Movement’ that thwarted the Centre’s plan to give away Mumbai to the state of Gujarat. The Shiv Sena is an extension of the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti’, a body formed to guard the interests of Marathi Manoos.

Hence Shivaji Park, laced with this history, is an emotive place for the Sena. Having been a Sena man himself, Eknath Shinde thought of hitting the Sena where it could hurt most. He tried to snatch Shivaji Park away from the Sena by first delaying, and later refusing it permission to hold its Vijayadashami rally. The Sena, however, outsmarted Shinde by applying for permission well in advance and later by challenging the state government’s refusal in the Bombay High Court. The first round went to Uddhav Thackeray.

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There are two aspects to the Shiv Sena’s strength. First is the Sena supremo’s ability to bring young and lumpen elements under one umbrella to give them some political purpose, and the second is keeping the “teach-them-a-lesson” spirit alive in them. Both these “qualities” were in full display at Shivaji Park.

Uddhav is in no way close to his father in vocabulary, vituperation or viciousness. Despite his inability to pepper his speech with the choicest abuse for political opponents, though, the Shivaji Park rally was very lively as compared to Shinde’s maiden public meeting held in the business district of Bandra. In terms of the size of the crowd, Shinde certainly had a better head-count than the Thackerays. But in terms of spirit, Uddhav’s rally stands out. In oratorical skills, if Uddhav is a pale shadow of his father, Shinde is no better. His first attempt to take on the Thackerays can be described as lacklustre at best.

Both the rallies underlined the same point — the political narrative revolves around one party: The BJP. It seems almost impossible for any political outfit to bypass or ignore the BJP. As a result, what happened at these two rallies was that even as Uddhav Thackeray was seen trying to take his battle to the BJP, Chief Minister Shinde, instead of marketing himself, was seen defending the BJP.

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To consolidate his vote bank of Hindus and neo Hindus, the BJP is busy portraying Uddhav as a “sinner”. His sin: Breaking bread with “secular” Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP. In an attempt to turn the tables on the BJP, Uddhav brought in RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat by mentioning his recent visit to a mosque and overtures to Muslims. “Should I say the RSS chief (by visiting a mosque) has compromised his Hindutva?” he asked. The reply came from Shinde who chastised Uddhav for criticising the RSS. Uddhav was keen on sending out a message of how he continues to adore Hindutva even today, and Shinde was seen making special efforts to portray him as “secular”. Of course, the Maharashtra Chief Minister was using “secular” as an accusation.

By organising the Vijayadashami rally and attempting to challenge the Sena on its own turf, the Shiv Sena’s Shinde faction may have succeeded in attracting eye-balls. But its first real test will be in the state legislative assembly by-election being held in Andheri (E), one of Mumbai’s suburbs, as early as November 3. The seat fell vacant following the death of a Shiv Sena MLA and before the Shinde faction could lure the departed MLA’s wife as its candidate, the Sena declared her nomination. Since the election symbol issue is yet to be decided, the Shinde faction has let the BJP contest the said by-election. It was impossible that the perennially election-ready BJP would miss the opportunity.

But in the end, whatever be the outcome, it will be the Shinde faction that will lose out. If the BJP wins, it will add one more MLA to its kitty. If it loses, it will be the Shinde faction which will be at the receiving end. The November 3 by-election will be followed by the most coveted Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election, the real battleground which the BJP hopes to win and dislodge the Shiv Sena from. The November 3 by-poll outcome will set the tone for the BMC poll which in turn will prepare the ground for the battle royale of the state assembly elections, just two years away.

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Meanwhile, Maharashtra may end up becoming a land of Hindu heartthrobs (Hriday Samrats). Originally, the title was reserved for Bal Thackeray. Now, staking claim for it is his son Uddhav, and trying to wrest it from Uddhav is his cousin Raj. Add to them new entrant Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, not to mention the BJP’s home-grown Devendra Fadnavis. The list goes on.

The writer is editor, Loksatta

First published on: 06-10-2022 at 06:34:53 pm
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