Did Amit Shah really say he wanted Uddhav Thackeray to be taught a lesson?
Be it a ‘foot-in-the-mouth’ moment, a slip of the tongue or fake news, Amit Shah ostensibly seeking to teach a lesson to Uddhav Thackeray has not gone down well with people in Maharashtra
The goodwill that Amit Shah may have earned by worshipping Lord Ganapati, setting a precedent, was frittered away when reports surfaced that he wanted Uddhav Thackeray to be taught a lesson for ‘betraying the BJP’.
That is because most Maharashtrians believe it was Uddhav Thackeray who was betrayed by Eknath Shinde and the BJP and not the other way round.
What is more, in Maharashtra Ganapati— depicted with laddoos and not weapons in his hands—is worshipped not just by Hindus but also by Muslims. Using a Ganapati celebration to threaten a political rival did not go down well with Maharashtrians and it earned Uddhav Thackeray more sympathy than the BJP.
Notwithstanding his reputation of being a ‘Chanakya’ with a penchant for winning elections, Amit Shah continues to be confounded by Maharashtra. Even in 2014, BJP was unable to secure a simple majority in the assembly and had to come crawling back to the Shiv Sena; and despite being in power, it could not win the subsequent Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections.
Shah is clearly clueless about how Maharashtrians detest defections. When Chhagan Bhujbal defected from the Shiv Sena to the ruling Congress, they let their unhappiness speak. They reacted much the same way when Chhatrapati Shivaji’s 14th descendant Udayanraje Bhosale switched from the NCP to the BJP barely three months after the Lok Sabha polls. They voted resoundingly for the NCP in the by-poll and not even his lineage could save Bhosale from a humiliating defeat.
Eknath Shinde’s betrayal of Uddhav Thackeray is seen as the greater act of treachery and Shah’s threat to teach Thackeray—a fellow Maharashtrian—a lesson, appears to have alienated the Marathi manoos and exacerbated the Maharashtrian-Gujarati divide. Shah clearly has bitten off more than he can reasonably chew–or swallow.
When Uddhav Thackeray claimed that Shah had broken his promise to him while forging their alliance in 2019, most Maharashtrians, even BJP voters among them, chose to believe him rather than Shah. Had Union minister Nitin Gadkari endorsed Shah, the situation could have been salvaged somewhat. But all that Gadkari said at the time was that being not present at the closed-door meeting, he had no idea who was speaking the truth. Maharashtrians drew their own conclusion.
Maharashtra’s tradition of hero worship is akin to that of Japan, where no god or religion is more important than their emperor – people may abuse their religion and get away but they would be lynched if they dared insult the emperor. Maharashtrians might forgive people for cursing their gods but never for bringing a bad name to their idolised warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji.
Shah should have known of Shiv Sena’s hold on that legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It was simply not advisable to threaten to harm the saffron standard of the Shiv Sena, which is drawn from the Chhatrapati's pennant.
Shah also overlooked the socialist ethos of Maharashtra, set in motion by Chhatrapati Shivaji in the 16th century and carried forward by the trio of Jyotiba Phule, Shahuji Maharaj (Shivaji’s descendant) and BR Ambedkar, that Maharashtrians swear by. Castes exist, but unlike elsewhere, they cannot be overcome and tied into one whole with the string of Hindutva.
Shah will clearly need something more than just the BJP's brand of threats and Hindutva to capture the hearts—and votes—of Maharashtrians.
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