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Monday, June 27, 2022

Babri mosque to body mass: All is fair in Uddhav vs Fadnavis war

As BMC polls near, Shiv Sena Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and BJP ex-CM Devendra Fadnavis are leading from the front

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai |
Updated: May 18, 2022 4:09:05 am
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray with BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis. (Express Archives)

As their parties sharpen their knives ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis are drawing blood too – with words.

Both have shed their milder avatars and previously cordial relations to lead the battle for the BMC, and against each other.

At a public rally in Mumbai on Saturday, Thackeray mocked Fadnavis, over his claims of having been present when the Babri Masjid was demolished. “What was your age during the Ayodhya movement?” he asked, adding: “Had you climbed the Babri mosque, it would have come down by your sheer weight.”

Earlier, Thackeray blamed the series of cases by Central agencies against Shiv Sena and MVA leaders as the handiwork of Fadnavis-led BJP and compared its reaction to that of “jilted lovers throwing acid on girls’ faces”.

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A day after Thackeray’s rally, Fadnavis held one in Mumbai, and answered every one of the CM’s jibes. “To those questioning and mocking my kar seva (for Babri Masjid), I would like to inform you that I was already an elected corporator at 21 years. I had participated in the temple movement, faced lathis and was imprisoned for championing the Ram temple cause… Wonder where Uddhav Thackeray was then?”

On Thackeray’s reference to his weight, Fadnavis said: “I have nothing to hide. At that time my weight was 128 kg. And now it is 102 kg. Rest assured, don’t underestimate my political weight, as it is good enough to pull down the Babri Power Structure of Maharashtra.”

The reference to the ‘Babri Power Structure’ was part of the tussle that is on between the Sena and BJP to be seen as the real champion of Hindutva. The BJP has been attacking the Sena over its alliance with the NCP and Congress, saying it had shown its “real colours” with the move. The Sena, whose entire politics is centred around aggressive Hindutva, has been pushing back.

A Sena Cabinet minister requesting anonymity said that Fadnavis was a natural target for the party. “He is the most aggressive leader of the BJP, and everything is fair in love, war and politics… Uddhav Thackeray stated things with conviction in the language which Sainiks like to hear.”

The BJP central and state leadership too is believed to have sent the message down the ranks that the Sena is their No. 1 enemy in the state. The party has set a target of 134-plus seats of the total 227 in the BMC, and hopes to take away at least 4-5% of the Sena vote, to dislodge it from control of the country’s richest corporation with an annual budget Rs 40,000 crore. Said a BJP source: “It is a daunting task, but not impossible. And if we succeed in uprooting the Sena in the BMC, rattling the three-party coalition in Maharashtra would be the next step.”

In 2017, in fact, the BJP had given the Sena a real scare, winning just two seats less than it. The two parties had fought the BMC polls separately despite being allies in the state government. Of the 227 seats, the BJP had won 82, and the Sena 84, leaving 61 for the rest, including the NCP, Congress, MNS, Samajwadi Party and others. Fadnavis had then decided to let the Sena hold the reins.

In a direct appeal on Hindutva lines, Thackeray said at Saturday’s rally: “These days fake Hindutvawadis are misleading the nation. Bal Thackeray taught us that we don’t need Hindus to ring bells in temple, we want Hindus who can thrash terrorists… Are we less Hindutvawadis just because we joined hands with the Congress? If that is the case, what about your (BJP) allies in the NDA? Bihar CM Nitish Kumar said a ban on loudspeakers in mosques was a nonsensical issue.”

However, Thackeray is wary of not pushing things too far, for fear of driving away the Congress. If the Congress withdraws, the MVA government would be under a threat.

Another issue on which the two states have crossed swords is Mumbai itself. Thackeray has accused the BJP of trying to break Mumbai from Maharashtra. “There is a conspiracy, but neither Fadnavis nor the BJP will ever succeed in this endeavour,” he warned.

Fadnavis says such talk is mischievous propaganda. “The BJP is talking of Mumbai’s transformation. Mumbai is an integral part of Maharashtra, who is breaking it away?”

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