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Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

Behind BJP scramble to debunk Governor Koshyari, fears of Marathi manoos backlash, Uddhav Sena rise

The BJP’s move sharply underlined the point that the party — which also rules the Centre that appointed Koshyari to the Mumbai Raj Bhavan — cannot afford to incur the wrath of the “Marathi manoos (people)” whose sentiments might have been bruised by the Governor’s remarks.

Bhagat Singh Koshyari. (File)

The prompt bid by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Maharashtra in alliance with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led rebel Shiv Sena faction, to reject Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s controversial take on Maharashtra and Mumbai was a clear damage-control exercise mounted in view of the political storm the latter’s remarks set off.

The BJP’s move sharply underlined the point that the party — which also rules the Centre that appointed Koshyari to the Mumbai Raj Bhavan — cannot afford to incur the wrath of the “Marathi manoos (people)” whose sentiments might have been bruised by the Governor’s remarks.

Addressing a function at Mumbai’s Andheri on Friday, Koshyari said, “If Gujaratis and Rajasthanis are removed from Maharashtra, especially Mumbai and Thane, no money will be left here… This place that is called financial capital will not be called financial capital.”

Although the Governor later issued a clarification to claim that his statement was “distorted” as he never undermined the role of Marathis in the making of Mumbai and Maharashtra and that he was only lauding the role of Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, it had already triggered a huge political row, forcing the ruling camp to immediately distance itself from his remarks.

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The Deputy CM and senior BJP leader, Devendra Fadnavis, said, “We don’t subscribe to Governor’s remark. We believe that the formation of Maharashtra and Mumbai is an outcome of great sacrifice, hard work and struggle of Marathi manoos”, adding that “In almost every field, art, culture, industries, the progress of the state can be attributed to Marathis”. He said it was for the Governor to explain his remarks. As regards the BJP, he added, “It cannot and does not endorse his remarks about Mumbai and Maharashtra.”

Koshyari’s statement drew an angry retort from BJP MLA Ashish Shelar, who said, “Marathi manoos is the pride of Mumbai and Maharashtra. Their immense role in building the city and the state cannot be questioned. We distance ourselves from the Governor’s remarks.”

In every electoral battle in Maharashtra, from local body polls to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections, the political parties from across the spectrum have sought to use issues like Mumbai or Marathi manoos to their advantage. The Shiv Sena, which has ruled the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) for three decades besides ruling the state in various alliance governments since 1990s, has always sought to turn these issues into its emotive planks at the hustings.

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With the Congress continuing to slide and the NCP appearing to lose momentum, the BJP has emerged as a major rival of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena over the past decade. The vertical split in the Sena has made the BJP more ambitious, even as the Shinde faction joined its hands to topple the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

In recent months, the Thackeray Sena had been engaged in making an outreach to North Indians living in Mumbai and Maharashtra to expand its vote base beyond the local Marathi population. The recent visit of Thackeray’s son Aditya to the Ram Temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya reflected their party’s escalated efforts to shed its “anti-migrant” politics.

It is in this context that some leaders in the BJP believe that Koshyari’s remarks brought the issue of Marathi manoos back to the centre stage of state politics, thereby giving the Thackeray Sena a fresh opportunity to connect to and gain support from its core Marathi vote bank.

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Marathis make up 26-30 per cent of Mumbai’s over 1.5 crore population. The Gujarati community and North Indians account for 17 per cent and 18-20 per cent population of the city, respectively.

Traditionally, the BJP, a pan-India party, has always enjoyed the support of Gujaratis as well as North Indians. Although the Sena has had greater sway in the Marathi-dominated constituencies, the BJP has also been successful in making a dent in the former’s Marathi vote base in recent years.

In the elections to the 227-member BMC in 2017, the BJP won 82 seats — just 2 less than the Sena. In the 2019 state Assembly elections, the BJP won more seats than the Sena in Mumbai and Thane districts. Of 36 seats in Mumbai, the BJP won 16 as against the Sena’s 14, Congress’s 4, and 1 each of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Samajwadi Party. Thane’s 18 seats saw the BJP winning 7, Sena 5, NCP 3, SP 1, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) 1 and Independent 1.

For the BJP to realise its goal of securing a clear majority in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, it is vital for the party to win over

core Marathi voters loyal to Thackeray Sena. With CM Shinde, who hails from Thane, on its side, the BJP believes it can make deeper inroads in Mumbai and Thane.

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Another reason for the BJP’s move to promptly distance itself from Koshyari stems from the point that the two sides had publicly appeared to be on the same page during the MVA government’s tenure even as there had been an open war raging between the latter and the Raj Bhavan.

Another charge which the BJP’s political opponents have regularly levelled against the Narendra Modi-led party government at the Centre is

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over its alleged designs to “break Mumbai away from Maharashtra”. Citing the examples such as Gujarat’s Gift City and the proposed bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, they have accused the BJP dispensation of making attempts to undermine Mumbai’s status as the financial capital of the country.

Fadnavis refuted such allegations again a few days ago, saying that “When Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena have no issues to attack BJP with, they come up with such imaginary subjects to mislead people,” adding that no one can separate Mumbai from Maharashtra,

First published on: 31-07-2022 at 11:34:39 am
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