Hindutva is always an election talking point when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is contesting a poll. As we are witnessing in the ongoing Uttar Pradesh elections, a major chunk of BJP’s leaders aren’t fans of secularism, which has made them target of opposition parties including Congress.
But Maharashtra and Mumbai present a different challenge for the BJP. In the upcoming polls for control of local governing bodies across Maharashtra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party finds itself on the other side of the fence as it battles allegations of abandoning Hindutva and “flaunting its secular credentials.” The charges against the BJP have come from its 28-year old political partner Shiv Sena, which has snapped ties with its senior alliance partner for the polls and even threatened to pull out its ministers from the national and the state cabinet.
“The state will breathe fresh for the first time in 25 years because the rope tied around the neck of Hindutva has finally been unknotted,” an editorial in Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna recently read.
“The alliance with BJP was over during the (2014) assembly polls itself…what remained was a mere relation for Hindutva and Maharashtra, but BJP finished that as well owing to their ill intentions of winning everything with money and power.”
According to reports, this is the first time in their coalition history since joining hands in 1996 that the two right-wing parties are fighting the local bodies’ elections separately. However, the cracks in the right-wing alliance had first started to show up in 2014, in the wake of which both the outfits fought the Maharashtra state polls separately. After the election, the parties buried their hatchet but as it turns out, the peace was short-lived. The Sena is at it again.
To the joy of millions of critics of PM Modi, the Sena hasn’t even spared the Prime Minister from its jibes. The Shiv Sena came from the side of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after Modi had taken a jibe at him during a Parliamentary session during the budget week. The Maharashtra-centric outfit even threatened to pull out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an alliance of right-wing parties currently in power.
But critics of Modi who laud the actions of Shiv Sena are in for a rude awakening. Firstly, Sena is worse than the BJP when it comes to practising identity politics in its basest form. In the past, Sena’s workers have been involved in harassing rickshaw and taxi drivers, and street-stall owners hailing from northern states, with immigrants from UP and Bihar facing the brunt. They are not only regional chauvinists, but Sena’s leaders also frequently make remarks against Muslims and whip public sentiment to target Bollywood and art.
A Sena spokesperson, Sharad Ponkshe, in September stoked controversy by asking Muslims to celebrate “eco-friendly” Eid. Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan too has found himself in the firing line of Sena’s rhetoric, most recently last month when they protested against screening of his movie Raees for featuring Pakistani actors. Shiv Sena leader and Maharhtra government minister Ramdas Kadam had in 2015 asked another Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan to “go back to Pakistan” in Nov 2015.
More importantly, Sena epitomises the worst of opportunistic politics. Recently, they roped in 24-year old Hardik Patel as their face for year end’s Gujarat elections. Whoever knows Patel’s politics is aware that he stands for a system of reservation based on caste, a long-standing government policy that repents many middle-class, hardworking and decent Indian youth of job and education opportunities.
Lastly, one would expect a party such as Shiv Sena which is so rigid-minded on its principles to practice honest politics. That’s not the case though. There have bee longstanding allegations against misappropriation of allocated funds by Sena-managed BMC, most recently reiterated by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
BJP seems like a better choice by a long shot when held up to scrutiny against the Sena.