If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has the Bajrang Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party has Sambhaji Brigade. In political circles, the link between hardline Maratha groups like Sambhaji Brigade, its parent body Maratha Mahasangh and the Nationalist Congress Party is well known.
Since 2004, when the Sambhaji Brigade hit headlines for attacking the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune, this relationship has only been strengthened for political gain.
The latest decision to remove the statue of Dadoji Konddev by the NCP-controlled Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is consistent with the party’s policy to encourage demands of hardline groups. After all, such a stance had helped the NCP maintain its dominance among the Maratha youth in Pune and rural Maharashtra in the 2004 elections. Then, the home minister, RR Patil, had not just ignored the vandalism, but gave in to their demand to ban Laine’s book.
Last year, the state government even changed the name of a state level award in honour of Konddev. The latest controversy is likely to have a long run and will help win the party support in the upcoming Zilla Parishad and corporation elections in Pune.
“NCP protected and encouraged the social (anti-Brahmin) and political ideology of these groups. The youth in these groups form its new base and muscle power,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who has been targeted by the opposition for instigating caste politics by removing the statue, denied any role in it. But he admitted, “Local leaders considered various demands for its removal before taking a decision.” Patil, too, justified the PMC’s decision saying it was democratic.