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Fear of losing ground

The entire furore surrounding the book launch of former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri in Mumbai was nothing but an exercise in realpolitik by the Shiv Sena. For the uninitiated, the current furore revolves around an incident, where people from the Sena attacked Sudheendra Kulkarni, head of the Observer Research Foundation. This incident, according to the Sena, was seen as a warning to the Foundation against going ahead with its event planned for Monday evening to launch a book written by Kasuri. Last week, it was noted Pakistani Ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali’s scheduled concert in Mumbai that got cancelled due to the Sena’s shenanigans. Although the book launch went ahead, as per schedule due to the security cover provided by the State government, the political fallout from the entire event paints a rather unfortunate picture of the Sena’s true political motivations. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the Bharatiya Janata Party chided the Shiv Sena for bringing the state a bad name due to the aggressive protest. In response, Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray reportedly praised Kulkarni’s attackers for ‘doing good work’ and asked them to continue doing so. Both parties are in alliance with both the State government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). However, the verbal back and forth has raised speculation that the Sena may ask its ministers to resign from their posts in the State government. Moreover, the Shiv Sena has decided to go it alone in the forthcoming Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation election and not have any tie-up with the BJP. The decision was reportedly taken on Monday night at a meeting of senior Sena leaders here. Kalyan and Dombivali are satellite cities adjacent to Mumbai, and the Sena-BJP alliance currently runs the Municipal Corporation. Although the Sena’s stated position on the book launch incident was that there should be no engagement with Pakistan as long as it supports terror attacks on Indian soil, the real reasons are altogether something else.

The BJP’s phenomenal rise in Maharashtra has pushed the Sena on the margins of the ruling coalition. The Sena is now a junior partner in the alliance unlike the previous occasion in the ‘90s when it was the dominant partner with the BJP tagging along. The reversal in fortunes probably began with the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Sena’s gross miscalculations. Suffice to say, the Sena was first envisioned as a party with a deep-seated ethnic and linguistic agenda. The Sena’s late patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray had propelled the party to significant electoral heights after he appropriated the politics of Marathi language and ethnic identity. However, the Sena really took off after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, when it truly emerged as a communal Hindu force in the State, sidelining other Hindu reactionary groups. No doubt, the party continued to run with its well-entrenched Hindutva agenda, raking up the question of Marathi identity now and then. The mistake, according to certain political commentators, is that the party continued to run with its Hindutva agenda rather than focus on issues of local identity. With Modi’s rise to power, which saw a coming together of Hindutva politics and the promise of economic development, the Sena lost some of its sting.  

In its bid to regain lost ground, the Sena is back to indulging in the kind of hooliganism it was once notorious for in the early ‘90s. By intimidating eminent personalities in direct opposition to the BJP-led state government’s diktat, the Sena is trying to regain old ground and undermine its alliance partner. The only conclusion one can arrive at is that Kulkarni, Ghulam Ali and Kasuri were pawns in a larger political game. Moreover, does the incident suit everyone involved? The Sena acquires political mileage, however little one may presume, and the Maharashtra government pretends to act tough on law and order.
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