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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

No Ayodhya visit, Raj Thackeray finds no easy way out of ‘vanvas’

The cancellation comes days after BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh warned that Raj Thackeray would not be allowed to enter Ayodhya unless he apologised for his anti-North Indian remarks.

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh | Mumbai |
Updated: May 20, 2022 9:11:00 pm
MNS chief Raj Thackeray at Aurangabad on May 1. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

In what is being seen as a certain loss of face, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackery has cancelled his visit to Ayodhya, which had been announced earlier with much fanfare.

The announcement of the cancellation of the June 5 visit came via a cryptic tweet on Thursday: “For now, Ayodhya visit cancelled….Will speak about it at May 22 rally in Pune.”

While the MNS has gone to great lengths to underline that the visit was called off due to health issues that have re-manifested, most are taking that with dollops of salt.

The cancellation comes days after BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh warned that Thackeray would not be allowed to enter Ayodhya unless he apologised for his anti-North Indian remarks. Singh went on attacking Thackeray, accusing him of having encouraged “atrocities” against North Indians, and baiting him with threats should he “show up in Ayodhya”.

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The BJP did nothing to rein in Singh, despite the MP’s threats coinciding with the party’s own alignment with the MNS’s campaign against loudspeakers in mosques in Maharashtra.

Tables seem to have quickly turned on Thackeray between the brief height of that campaign, when he once again held the limelight, to this muted Ayodhya pullout now.

Sources said the BJP seems to have done the calculation that risking the North Indian vote in the coming BMC polls was not worth the few votes it might attract due to backing the MNS’s strident Hindutva line. Not just the North Indian vote, even the minority vote holds considerable sway in a substantial number of BMC wards. Plus, the agitation against loudspeakers in mosques did not get the desired traction.

Apart from the usual North Indian bashing that the Shiv Sena was born out of, and from which the MNS branched off, Thackeray’s remarks are believed to have directly led in February 2008 to violence in parts of Maharashtra leading to several deaths.

The MNS’s recent, high-pitched emergence on the scene on the loudspeaker issue was seen as a bid to take away the Hindutva space that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena is seen to have vacated, due to its alliance with the NCP and Congress. The Ayodhya visit was part of the same campaign, with MNS rivals suggesting that the BJP was behind the MNS push.

Asked about the cancellation of the Ayodhya trip by Raj Thackeray, MNS leader Bala Nandgaonkar said: “It is a personal matter related to his health and it would be improper for me to comment on this. But he will be holding a rally in Pune on May 22 and will address all the questions.”

The Shiv Sena received the news with glee. “Those who opposed him (over the visit) are from the BJP. It was the BJP which tried to create an atmosphere around loudspeakers and used his shoulders to fire their guns from. It was the BJP that raked up the issue of Hanuman Chalisa as well (threatening to chant it in public if mosques used loudspeakers for azaan). These issues did not work. There is a sense that the BJP may have asked him (Raj Thackeray) to postpone his trip as of now,” Sena MP Sanjay Raut said.

He added: “The BJP has been using political leaders for its own gains. These leaders should realise their folly.”

Even Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh didn’t shy from taking a swipe at Thackeray. As per a PTI report from Gonda in UP, the BJP MP said had Thackeray apologised to saints, CM Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then anger of people would have subsided, Singh said, adding that since the MNS leader had not done so, “my ongoing protest over his visit will not be postponed”.

Singh also called Thackeray an “unfortunate man” who had missed the chance to visit Ayodhya. “He had a good opportunity to come to Ayodhya after apologising but he again missed that opportunity. He is very unfortunate and misfortune is not leaving him,” he said.

That is something Raj Thackeray does not need to hear. From his zenith in 2009, when the then three-year-old MNS had won 13 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly, his fortunes have been on the decline. By the 2019 Assembly polls, its tally had fallen to one. Many of his former associates have jumped ship.

Thackeray has marked this plunge with ideological oscillations to keep afloat. From being an ardent admirer of Narendra Modi to publicly bashing the Prime Minister in rallies that he held in support of Congress-NCP candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, to again going full Hindutva and changing his party flag colours from saffron, blue and green stripes to all saffron after the Sena had crossed sides to the NCP and Congress, to jumping into the loudspeaker issue – Thackeray has made many pivots.

Could the latest have tripped him?

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