Inability to adjust to being a junior partner in the state government is pushing the Shiv Sena to take up increasingly strident positions to claim the mantle of Hindutva spokesperson in Maharashtra.
The tension is cloaked in governance, legalistic and policy issues. But after four months in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, the Sena’s one-upmanship over mindspace is beginning to tell. The party is setting the scene for the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, due in 2017.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut courted controversy by seeking Muslims be denied voting rights. In his column in party mouthpiece Saamna, Raut claimed the community had been used as a vote bank and said erstwhile Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had proposed Muslims’ voting rights be revoked.
Raut wrote the article a day after voting for the byelection to the Bandra East Assembly constituency, where Sena nominee Trupti Sawant faces a fight from Congress candidate Narayan Rane and the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) nominee, Rahbar Khan.
Raut’s article also coincided with campaigning for 113 seats of the Aurangabad municipal body, where the MIM has made victory a prestige issue. It won the Assembly seat there.
On April 8, the Sena objected to columnist Shobhaa De’s tweet on the Maharashtra government’s decision to force multiplexes to screen Marathi films in prime time. Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik protested against De’s tweet wondering whether popcorn in multiplexes would be replaced by dahi misal and vada pav.
The Sena took out a morcha the next day to De’s residence with a parcel of vada pav. The BJP played down the Sena move but 24 hours after his announcement, Tawde said prime time slots would be available between 12 pm and 9 pm.
The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly secretariat has asked De to clarify her remarks. How her statements violate privileges of MLAs is a matter of some mystery for most constitutional experts.
Just a week before this, the Sena took a jibe at actor Naseeruddin Shah, who had expressed regret over the strained relations between India and Pakistan. “The answer to his (Shah’s) question on why is there so much hatred for Pakistan can be given by those who lost their near and dear ones during the 26/11 attacks. Pakistan continues to engage in bloodshed. Not only 26/11, the Delhi Parliament attack and terrorist attacks prior to that, too, were masterminded from Pakistan,” the Sena said in an edit in the Saamna.
The Sena has also expressed displeasure over Union minister of state V K Singh attending the Pakistan Day function. It has attacked the BJP for its alliance with the People’s Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir.
In the Sena’s traditional stronghold in Mumbai, the party on March 18 organised a bandh in the Marathi-speaking Girgaum locality to protest against the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro III project. The Sena targeted Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis by turning down a proposal for rehabilitating 777 families living in Girgaum chawls.
The Sena, which controls the BMC for the last 20 years in coalition with the BJP, has also launched a campaign against the city's draft Development Plan up to 2034. The state’s finance minister, Sudhir Mungantiwar, has taken flak for not providing enough money for a number of infrastructure projects in Mumbai.
Sena insiders argue the BJP should not take its support for granted because its participation in the government is an adjustment for the sake of Maharashtra.