Amid growing unease in a section of the Shiv Sena about the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) setting the agenda in the mosque loudspeaker-Hanuman Chalisa episode and criticism from the Opposition for “abandoning Hindutva”, Sena president and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has defined his party’s brand of Hindutva as one of nationalism and not communalism.
“Those who tell us about Hindutva now, I ask them, what all have you done for Hindutva? When Babri (Masjid) was demolished, you went into hiding,” Thackeray said last week after lawmaker-couple Navneet And Ravi Rana were arrested for threatening to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside his residence “Matoshree” if loudspeakers were not removed from mosques.
Thackeray’s statement was as much a message to the Opposition as it was to the Shiv Sainiks who have grown anxious since MNS chief Raj Thackeray started stoking the loudspeaker issue earlier this month. The demand to ban mosque loudspeakers was first raised by Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray and some party workers pointed out that it was a central issue for them till even 16 months ago. In a December 2020 editorial, party mouthpiece Saamana said, “The Centre should promulgate an ordinance to stop loudspeakers at mosques to prevent noise pollution.”
Some of the apprehension in the Sena cadre about the party’s purportedly changing political identity is the result of its alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that, according to a Shiv Sainik, has not gone down well with a section of the outfit. “While we haven’t given up Hindutva, some of them (party workers) feel it was not good to join hands with secular parties as we are a Hindutva party.”
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Despite the unease, the Sena received a shot in the arm after the Ranas’ warning. Party insiders said it galvanised the cadre who always unite when it comes to the Thackerays. “The protest against the Ranas has united all Shiv Sainiks. They have kept aside their differences and have come together for the party,” former Sena shakha pramukh (branch chief) Prakash Misal told The Indian Express.
Shiv Sena’s Vile Parle deputy divisional head Jitendra Janawale said the party displayed its muscle power through the protests, harking back to the days of old. “Shiv Sainiks have shown that today’s Sena is Balasaheb’s Sena and it hasn’t changed. The Sainiks are there to guard the Thackerays against opponents. The protests have charged them up and will help us retain power in the coming BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) polls,” he added.
A party old-timer said, “Our best time is always when Shiv Sainiks are on the streets fighting for a cause. The Sainiks like to show their muscle power. The recent protests against the Ranas have helped them to vent out their anger at the Opposition.”
A Sena functionary said the party protested against the lawmaker-couple as theirs was a political move and not religious. “Had they sought the permission from the Thackeray family, it could have been given to them. But the Ranas wanted to perform a stunt rather than do a recital. We will not allow and tolerate anything against our ‘Matoshree’, which is a temple for all Shiv Sainiks,” the party leader added.
A party worker from Parel hit out at the Opposition and asked, “Why was the MNS quiet on the issue so far and what did the BJP do about it when it was in power (in the state) between 2014 and 2019?”
Though the show of force against the Ranas may have united the ruling party cadre and papered over any fault line, political analysts said the Sena would have to ensure its Hindutva agenda remains in focus in the long term to counter the BJP and the MNS’s attempts to corner it, and assuage the concerns of a section of its workers.
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