Maharashtra: Uddhav’s rift with the BJP on the road to no return

"The Ram temple has come up because of Balasaheb, and not inviting Uddhav Thackeray is akin to not acknowledging Balasaheb’s contribution to it,” Shiv Sena (UBT) spokesman Sanjay Raut has said

Uddhav Thackeray (File photo)
Uddhav Thackeray (File photo)

Sujata Anandan

As the BJP prepares for the grand opening of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, it is clear former friends-turned-foes could be deadly. Having invited all opposition leaders to the opening, including those in the Congress—thus putting secular-minded parties in a quandary about how to reconcile a show at the event with their inclusive politics—they have left out just one political leader from their invitation list: Uddhav Thackeray, former chief minister of Maharashtra.

Thackeray has been gaining popularity among liberal Hindus and Muslims alike for redefining his party’s Hindutva to mean the practice of Hinduism without having to exclude or murder Muslims. Muslims who felt secure under his regime, continue to do so with the Shiv Sena (UBT).

During one of his party rallies in September this year, Uddhav had expressed the worry that while the BJP was planning to take busloads and trainloads of pilgrims to Ayodhya for the January temple inauguration, they were simultaneously plotting to create a Godhra-like incident during the pilgrims’ return to their home states.

As per his information, this conflagration would be pinned on Muslims and the subsequent riots would be Modi’s ticket to a third term in office. He warned Hindus to steer clear of Ayodhya during the inauguration and Muslims to stay as far away from those buses and trains as possible. The BJP did not take him up on that statement, making many wonder if Uddhav’s intelligence on the planned conflagration isn’t, in fact, correct.

Might that explain his omission from the invite list, despite his political party being the one that would have no problems attending the temple inauguration, as they would lose no capital among their voters.

Party spokesperson Sanjay Raut, in an oblique reference to L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi being invited yet asked to stay away, has said, “The Ram temple is for those who had nothing to do with its building. They have only capitalised on other people’s contribution to it. And they will deliberately not invite those who had anything to do with it so that they get all the credit. The temple has come up because of Balasaheb, and not inviting Uddhav Thackeray is akin to not acknowledging Balasaheb’s contribution to it.”

It is disputable how much Balasaheb actually contributed to the temple. Admittedly, he said he was proud of his Shiv Sainiks for bringing down the mosque, because he thought that would enhance his Hindutva politics. But he swiftly retracted that statement when faced with a summons from the Liberhan Commission that was probing the demolition.

“The BJP leaders were cowards, they were afraid of admitting their role in the demolition, I am afraid of nothing and no one. And so, when they passed the blame on to me, I proudly accepted it. But the fact is that none of my Shiv Sainiks were on that mosque that day.”

Which, according to Shankar Gaikar, the then president of the Maharashtra Bajrang Dal, was absolutely true, as he and his boys were the ones who had climbed the dome with hammers and hooks to bring it down.

Gaikar was furious that Advani had passed on the ‘credit’ to the Shiv Sena on the grounds that his boys were speaking Marathi. “Shiv Sainiks do not have exclusive rights on Marathi. We were all Maharashtrians and so we spoke Marathi,” Gaikar had said then.

Today it once again suits the Shiv Sena to claim credit for razing the mosque, safe in the knowledge that no one is likely to challenge them now, not even VHP leader Ashok Singhal who had described Bal Thackeray as a ‘vivekheen Hindu’ for calling for a school or hospital to be built at the site of the Babri Masjid soon after its demolition.

Uddhav Thackeray’s rift with the BJP now seems to be on the road of no return.


Ajit Pawar turns down RSS invitation

Given that the RSS is doling out invitations to all political parties by the bucketful, it was not surprising that they included Ajit Pawar and his MLAs in their invitation list to a memorial held for RSS founder K.B. Hegdewar and his successor M.S. Golwalkar at their headquarters in Reshim Bagh, Nagpur, held during the winter session of the legislature.

Conscious of the fact that attending a RSS event would be highly damaging to their continuing secular and socialist vote bank, Ajit’s faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chose to organise a parallel event and thus wormed their way out of attending.

NCP leader Ajit Pawar (photo: IANS)
NCP leader Ajit Pawar (photo: IANS)

Now the RSS and BJP are miffed not just because of the no-show, but also because Amol Mitkari, the spokesperson of Ajit Pawar’s NCP, added insult to injury with a combative statement that smacked of arrogance.

“Anyone might invite us to any event but it is our prerogative to accept the invitation or not. We were otherwise preoccupied and we had more important business to attend to.”

Since this ‘important business’ was a dialogue with senior editors called by Ajit Pawar at the exact time of the RSS event, the BJP is not amused, taking it as a ploy to keep the editors from attending their event, as a dialogue with media-shy Ajit is rare and thus more enticing.


Another twist in the Maratha tale

The Maratha reservation issue takes a new twist and turn every week. Chief minister Eknath Shinde believed he had got off easily by offering Kunbi certificates to Marathas in order to fit them in the OBC category. Kunbis are a subsect of the Marathas and many OBCs have threatened counter-agitations if the government continues to issue these certificates.

Getting cold feet, Shinde partially backtracked and decided that only individuals who had obtained the certificates would be treated as OBC—the status would not be applicable to family members or spouses, who would have to obtain certificates of their own.

Since this move denied them any claim to being Maratha, opposition immediately followed from Maratha leader Manoj Jarange Patil who threatened another agitation if the spouse and children of the head of the family were not automatically granted similar status. Now the government is wringing its hands over how to get over this latest contretemps without losing more capital.

Maratha activist Manoj Jarange Patil
Maratha activist Manoj Jarange Patil


‘Yeh mera prem patra padhkar...’

Journalists attending the winter session of the Maharashtra Assembly in Nagpur were startled when Ajit Pawar broke into this Mohammed Rafi song on the steps of the Vidhan Sabha. The ‘love letter’ referred to Devendra Fadnavis’s missive to him about not associating with former minister Nawab Malik who had given him a letter of support.

It seems the chief minister had asked him not to take the letter to heart and continue as usual. “He told me it was just a letter and not to feel bad about it. The way he said it, I was reminded of that song,” Ajit said, before launching into it. Who knew he had this talent?

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