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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Bambai se aaya mera ‘naya’ dost: Why Aaditya and Tejashwi have hit ‘like’

Uddhav Sena needs every vote it can get in coming BMC polls, and Bihar migrants rank high up there; sans Lalu, Tejashwi can do with contemporary friends

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) leader Aditya Thackeray being greeted by Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav during a meeting, in Patna, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Politics is the art of the possible, and Maharashtra has been learning it every day. Wednesday was one such learning when Thackeray scion Aaditya travelled all the way to Patna to meet Lalu legatee Tejashwi. The purpose of the meeting was to secure the RJD leader’s support for the coming Mumbai civic polls, to get the Uddhav Sena the Bihari immigrant vote.

This is the same Shiv Sena that built its politics and vote base in Mumbai with its strident “Marathi Manoos” campaign, directed specifically against migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But, then, it is not the same Shiv Sena — split vertically down the middle, with one half dependent on the BJP and the other led by Uddhav desperate to hold on to the BMC to establish itself as the real Sena.

As the Bihar BJP attacked the RJD and partner JD(U) for hobnobbing with a party that had bad mouthed people from the state, both Aaditya and Tejashwi insisted that all that was a thing of the past and that, for them, the future lay in “Opposition unity”.

In Patna, Aaditya met both Tejashwi, the Bihar Deputy Chief Minister, and JD(U) chief and CM Nitish Kumar, who is pretty choosy about whom he grants an audience to.

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In the last BMC polls, held in 2017, the BJP had given the then united Sena a scare, winning 82 seats to its 84 in the 227-member corporation. The wards recently saw delimitation, which the Opposition claims favours the BJP, while the Uddhav Sena is bound to lose some of its vote bank to the Shinde faction. That makes any additional vote valuable, which is where the migrants come in. Migrants from the North, mostly UP and Bihar, are believed to add up to 20% of Mumbai’s population.

The Shiv Sena has controlled the BMC for more than two decades, and a win here is a must for Uddhav to hold on to his cadre at a time when the Shinde faction has more MLAs, MPs and holds power.

Questioning Tejashwi and Nitish’s meeting with Aaditya, BJP Rajya Sabha MP and former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said: “How can Nitish Kumar or any Mahagathbandhan leader seek votes for the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena, which has consistently insulted people from Bihar, even attacked them? While Nitish Kumar or Tejashwi would have little impact in the BMC polls, even thinking of campaigning for the Uddhav Sena is unpalatable for the people of Bihar,” Modi said.

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With the BJP in government with the Shinde Sena in Mumbai, Modi added that the “original” Sena that is following the ideals of Balasaheb Thackeray is with Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde. “The Uddhav-led Sena is with the Congress, which has insulted Veer Savarkar. Nitish Kumar should clarify where he stands now. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi should also remember that as PM, Indira Gandhi had issued a postal ticket in the name of Savarkar,” said Modi.

The BJP leader dismissed the claims of “much-hyped” Opposition unity, saying it was headed nowhere, and that the Aaditya-Tejashwi talks were only a meeting of “two dynasts”.

Asked about the Sena’s campaign against Bihar migrants in Mumbai in the past, Aaditya claimed: “Those who ill-treated people from Bihar are now with the BJP.”

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Tejashwi said: “There is no reason to invoke the past. What is important today is Opposition unity.” With father Lalu Prasad to all purposes out of the picture, Tejashwi, who is hoping to find his feet, got a resounding endorsement from Aaditya as being a “long-distance horse”.

A senior JD(U) leader added: “Equations change in politics from time to time… Our party supports any party that is against the BJP.”

If Shinde split the Sena to fell the MVA coalition government in Maharashtra earlier this year, Nitish had parted ways with the BJP to dislodge the NDA government in Bihar, and formed a ruling coalition with the RJD and Congress.

Even granted this topsy-turvy, the Sena’s new-found Bihar outlook is quite a departure from its past. In March 2008, an editorial in its mouthpiece Saamna had carried the headline Ek Bihar, Sau Bimar (One Bihar behind so many problems), in a vitriolic attack on migrants. The editorial said migrants from Bihar “antagonised” local populations wherever they went. The Sena had also justified the spate of attacks against UP and Bihar migrants in Mumbai by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray.

Warning politicians from the two states to show “restraint” in their reaction, the Sena had said migrants might see even more violence otherwise.

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Founded by the late Bal Thackeray on June 19, 1966, the Sena’s central plank from the start was “sons of the soil”, with South Indians based in Mumbai its first target of attack. The Sena supremo accused them of grabbing most of the government jobs. In the 1980s, the Sena turned its attention to North Indians, with attacks on lowly job holders such as migrant hawkers, rickshaw pullers, who were mostly from UP and Bihar.

Then, in the 1990s, the Sena stepped up its campaign over the “high” recruitment of candidates from Bihar in the Indian Railway sector. It alleged that central North Indian leaders were prejudiced against Maharashtra.

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In the party’s annual Dussehra rallies too, Bal Thackeray often attacked North Indians, a refrain later picked up by Uddhav to consolidate the Sena’s Marathi vote bank. In 2012, Uddhav talked of issuing “mandatory permits” to check the influx from Bihar and UP.

It was only in the early 2020s, as it felt threatened by the BJP (with its stronger hold on the North Indian vote), and moved towards the NCP and Congress, that the Sena softened its anti-migrant stand.

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During the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections, the Sena had been full of praise for Tejashwi, who spearheaded the RJD campaign, with a Saamna editorial claiming the party would defeat the NDA.

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke, and migrants started heading home, Uddhav, the CM at the time, made special appeals for them to stay, promising to look after them.

First published on: 24-11-2022 at 06:29:07 pm
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