Eye on Maharashtra: It’s Shivaji vs Aurangzeb in coming civic polls

The Maha Vikas Aghadi is happy with its three-wheeled drive and the AIMIM will have to remain content being the BJP’s ‘stepney’ for some time to come

Eye on Maharashtra: It’s Shivaji vs Aurangzeb in coming civic polls

Sujata Anandan

Devendra Fadnavis and his BJP partymen are fond of describing the Maha Vikas Aghadi government as a vehicle with just three tyres. But then Uddhav Thackeray, Ajit Pawar and BalasahebThorat are quite comfortable with that description.

For while the BJP these days is obsessed with Bulgari glasses, Gucci shoes, multi-crore luxury jets and Maybach Mercedeses as official cars, the MVA is not looking down its nose at three-wheeler which is the ubiquitous common man’s vehicle in Mumbai (and elsewhere in the country). It should actually be the logo of the MVA government in Maharashtra, for it cruises along with one wheel in the lead (is that the Shiv Sena or the NCP,I wonder?) while the other two tyres offer steady and comfortable support and the engine is somewhere in between the three. Quite how the MVA has been working for the past two-and-a-half years, skimming the potholes, weathering the bumps, not insulating itself in luxury and being pretty affordable as a common man’s transport.

But now the All India Majis-eIttehadul Muslimeen has set a cat among the pigeons by saying the MVA needs a fourth tyre for its “car” to make its ride comfortable and that it is willing to be that steadying tyre. The reactions from both ends of the spectrum have been instantaneous and not quite savoury to the AIMIM.

The party’s sole MP from Maharashtra Imtiaz Jaleel is said to have sent feelers to Sharad Pawar through a minister who had visited him to condole the death of his mother. The NCP straight away rejected the suggestion saying they do not mixpolitics with the personal and virtually held Jaleel a liar for saying that a condolence visit had turned into political parleys.

But it was the Shiv Sena’s sharp reaction that bushed the AIMIM out of its new found hopes. The reference to a fourth tyre not only brought forth the comment that the AIMIM has been acting as the BJP’s “stepney” bothin Bengal and Uttar Pradesh (the Congress and NCP had earlier called it the BJP’s ‘B’ team) but Sanjay Raut, chief spokesperson of the party, went a step further to say they do not do deals with those who worship Aurangzeb and bow before the grave of a man who had imprisoned Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and would have killedhim had the latter not escaped in the nick of time.

So, it is now Shivaji versus Aurangzeb in Maharashtra, the classic battlelines that will be very difficult to overcome as the Shiv Sena once again redefines its Hindutva without compromising its new-found secularism.

Perhaps this is where the AIMIM has erred and at least Jaleel as Aurangabad MP should have known better. Aurangabad is a real bone of contention between the Sena and the AIMIM which had displaced the Congress as main opposition party in the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation in 2015 riding on the Muslim disenchantment with the Congress in those years.

However, the term of the AMC is long over, fresh elections held in abeyance due to Covid restrictions and there has been a marked shift in the attitudes of both the Shiv Sena and Muslims towards each other.

Many Muslims in Maharashtra, while appreciating that the Shiv Sena in government has made them feel comfortable and secure by redefining their Hindutva as non-violent and all-encompassing, are also disillusioned with the AIMIM for pandering to the BJP and doing little for their community in Aurangabad or elsewhere.

Now Aurangzeb, born at Dahod in Gujarat, lies buried in Aurangabad, a city named after the camp he set up here for 25 years in his bid to subdue Shivaji and his successors and other Muslim sultanates of the Deccan.

When the AIMIM succeeded in breaching this city, sharply divided and polarised between the three communities of upper caste Hindus, Dalits and Muslims, it had to offer prayers before the grave of the Mughal emperor. But worshipping Aurangzeb is less important to Muslim voters than their safety and security and it is unlikely that the AIMIM will succeed again here on its own. It thus needs to blur the lines and become part of the larger group that has the confidence of its voters -- and in Maharashtra this now includes not just the Congress but also the Shiv Sena and the NCP which have stood fiercely with minister Nawab Malik and refused to abandon him to the saffron forces.

While the BJP has predictably refrained from labelling the AIMIM as the other side of the communal coin, Jaleel too has erred inparroting the BJP to statethat the “Shiv Sena can no longer defeat the BJP on its own and needs the AIMIM to help it reach that goal”.

Firstly, the Sena was never in the game of defeating the BJP – in fact, all of Uddhav Thackeray’s recent lamentshave beenon how his party helped the BJP to win and reach a place where it is now attempting to crush its former ally. Secondly, while it is true that the Sena will not win on its own, the MVA alliance in Maharashtra has pretty well taken care of all non-BJP voters and are likely to sweep most municipal elections ahead of the next Lok Sabha and assembly elections. It has been working silently to overturn all the unfair advantages of the BJP and among these has Been the Election Commission.

The MVA brought a bill in the Assembly last week, to take over the exercise of the delimitation of wards (done every decade) from the purview of the EC and placed into the hands of bureaucrats directly controlled by the government. Not surprisingly, the BJP in the state has been howling about the unfair advantage in several wards in several cities already redefined to the MVA. So, the AIMIM’s offer to join the MVA is being looked upon with suspicion as an attempt to insert moles in their government.

Unfortunately, even the most ordinary people believe the AIMIM has been supping with the devil and the MVA is not likely to hand it a long spoon to escape the inevitable consequences of running with the hares while hunting with the hounds.

The AIMIM will have to remain the BJP’s stepney for some time to come.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday. Views are personal)

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