I actually feel sorry for the BJP. What a comedown it has been from the mighty Amit Shah to Kangana Ranaut in its attempts to bring down a legitimately elected state government in Maharashtra.
Ever since Uddhav Thackeray cocked a snook at the BJP and stole a government from under its nose, both central and state BJP leaders, including the governor of Maharashtra, have left no stone unturned to have him dismissed from his office of chief minister or otherwise destroy his reputation.
The best of these attempts was their stealing of four – just four! - MLAs belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party when Ajit Pawar defected and was sworn in as deputy chief minister along with Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister. But look at the downward trajectory of both Fadnavis and his party in this regard.
First, Fadnavis and the BJP conducted a midnight tantric puja to ensure his return to the office of chief minister. The coup de gràce with regard to stealing a nephew (Ajit) from his uncle (Sharad Pawar) was said to be a masterstroke facilitated by that puja but Pawar, without quite resorting to any such tantric activities, rescued not just his nephew but every single one of the MLAs from under the nose of the Haryana police who were guarding them at a five-star hotel in Gurgaon.
Once that failed, began the social media haranguing of Uddhav Thackeray by Fadnavis's wife Amruta, who was so upset at having to quit her husband’s official residence that she went overboard in abusing Thackeray to such an extent that the BJP leadership itself had to call a halt to the campaign. Then Fadnavis had some party spokesperson write a critical article about Thackeray on a right-wing website but when social media responses showed a lot of outrage, that article was hurriedly pulled down.
Then Fadnavis attempted to stall Uddhav Thackeray’s nomination to the Maharashtra Legislative Council, roping in the governor’s good offices for the purpose. When Thackeray managed his election unopposed, he was attacked for allegedly mismanaging the Coronavirus crisis in Maharashtra. But that campaign was swiftly abandoned when not only did Thackeray receive kudos from even detractors for his calm handling of a tough situation but when infection figures in BJP-ruled states overtook that of Maharashtra.
When two sadhus were lynched by some tribal villagers in Palghar, who suspected the sadhus to be child lifters, the BJP initially went on the offensive and demanded the chief minister’s resignation before beating a hasty retreat when it turned out that the four main accused, including the sarpanch of the village, were BJP functionaries.
Then, of course, there is the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case, where the party's supporters have gone from declaring it to be a murder before bringing in allegations of alleged money laundering, then adding the charge of drug peddling and finally leading to the arrest of Rajput’s girlfriend for allegedly paying for drugs that the actor consumed. The drug she paid for was apparently Ganja or marijuana which is smoked by millions across the country, by thousands of sadhus and pilgrims in Varanasi and which is even legal in some states of India.
What is more, a BJP worker in Karnataka has now been caught peddling 1200 kgs of Ganja. What NCB recovered from Rhea’s alleged accomplices was admittedly just 59 grams. However, the target here was not Rhea Chakrabarty per se but Aditya Thackeray, the son of the Maharashtra chief minister, who himself is a minister in his father's cabinet.
The BJP hoped that by maligning his reputation – for being on friendly terms with Bollywood personalities, including those around Rajput - he could be snared in a murder case for which neither the Mumbai police, nor the Central Bureau of Investigation has found any evidence so far.
But now that even that has not worked out, they fell back on over-the-top actress Kangana Ranaut to provoke Uddhav Thackeray and his party into a reaction that would discredit the government in Maharashtra.
But despite a quarter century of its alliance with the Shiv Sena, BJP failed to notice that SS had undergone a sea change in its character. For at least two decades, if not more, Uddhav Thackeray has been trying hard to make his party more acceptable to the middle classes and move it away from the lumpen elements associated with his father Bal Thackeray's tenure at the helm of the Shiv Sena. Undet Balasaheb, the party was little more than a vigilante group and right from the start Uddhav Thackeray was agonised by the fact that decent people wished to have nothing to do with it.
He has made a conscious effort to rid the Shiv Sena of that image which is why there was an estrangement from his father’s associates like Narayan Rane, his cousin Raj Thackeray and earlier Anand Dighe, the man accused of chopping his party corporator to pieces for cross voting at the Thane Municipal Corporation in favour of the Congress.
He had consciously reduced the violent targetting of North Indians and Muslims in Mumbai and Maharashtra and even apologised in the Maharashtra Assembly for mixing religion with politics. It is such mainstreaming of the Shiv Sena and moving it away from bigotry and extreme fundamentalism that landed him the plum office of the chief minister and it is unlikely that he will send a vigilante mob to Kangana Ranaut to rough her up for calling him names. The Mumbai police, now reporting to him, has even arrested some Shiv Sainiks for roughing up a retired naval officer for an allegedly offensive WhatsApp forward.
But while Kangana's intemperate language only makes the chief minister a better and more restrained human being, the Shiv Sena is hardly likely to completely overcome its DNA in dealing with its opposition. Demolishing her office has shades of how they had similarly targetted radio jockey Malaishka for popularising a parody on the potholes on Mumbai’s roads. The Sena took that personally and unleashed the BMC on her. But unlike Kangana or even Shahrukh Khan and Kapil Sharma, Malaishka had no illegal construction to her name and was harassed for allegedly breeding mosquitoes through indoor plants!
Fadnavis was the chief minister of Maharashtra then. So, he is wrong in presuming that Maharashtra has not seen such targetting before. There have been many while the BJP has been in partnership with the Shiv Sena, both in government and the municipal corporation over years. This is thus another salvo by the BJP that has fallen by the wayside.
Uddhav Thackeray has always said he does well because he rides on the blessings of his father. Not quite the whole truth. I think he does so simply because he is blessed by better sense than either Bal Thackeray or the BJP ever had.