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Not really a minor matter

Bal Thackeray is perhaps the only leader who never actively wooed the minority community for their votes during his lifetime. Though Shiv Sena leaders acknowledge that the minority vote is as important to their party as it has been to others for getting an edge over their rivals.

columns Updated: Oct 10, 2013 08:53 IST
Sujata Anandan

Bal Thackeray is perhaps the only leader who never actively wooed the minority community for their votes during his lifetime. Yet on different occasions he either pampered them -- in recognition of the fact that they had voted for him in large numbers despite the 1992-93 riots to bring his party to power in Maharashtra in 1995 -- and even reviled them by calling for their disenfranchisement when he realised they had swung away from his party towards the Congress again in 1999.

But despite his blow-hot-blow-cold attitude with Muslims throughout his life -- winning elections by lambasting the community, then seeking their support to elect mayors from his party at Bombay and Aurangabad municipal corporations at various times -- after 1995 there has been a largescale recognition among many Shiv Sena leaders that the minority vote is as important to their party as it has been to others for getting an edge over their rivals.

That is at the root of the Sena’s problems with a BJP led by Narendra Modi — since the 2004 elections the Sena has not been getting minority votes given the BJP’s complicity and Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Uddhav Thackeray has known for a long time that his party needs to break away from the BJP to stand at a striking distance of power again in the state but both parties are bound into a relationship neither desires any longer because of their own compulsions.

Now the Sena is raging against CM Prithviraj Chavan for wooing a community it cannot hope to attract to its side soon and seems to have reverted to the 1970s and the 1980s when Thackeray used to describe Muslims as ‘greens’ – the kindest term he had for them. It lambasted Chavan for luring ‘green votes’ for the Congress this week when the CM, at a public meeting for minorities, avowed that Maharashtra was ahead of other states in implementing the Sachar committee recommendations on minorities.

I guess the Sena realises that the coming elections are a goner for the saffron parties in view of the fact that the CBI is closing in on Modi and his cohorts not just in the Ishrat Jahan case but also in regard to the investigation of the Haren Pandya murder wherein even DG Vanzara, the cop once upon a time close to Modi, alleges that his team had escorted the killer, a Muslim fundamentalist, to the borders of Bangladesh after the murder. Were the findings in both the investigations to come closer to the Lok Sabha polls and go against Modi, the Sena could be savaged along with the BJP – the latter might still resurrect itself by shedding Modi but then what happens to the Sena and its current leadership after that?

That is perhaps why Uddhav has cleverly decided not to play ball with the BJP over Modi’s desperation to take his estranged cousin Raj Thackeray on board to limit the division of votes against the saffron alliance, by askng the BJP to part with seats from its own quota if they want the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to contest on their side. Raj, though, may be sitting pretty both ways — ideologically close to Modi but compelled to keep his distance in his larger ambition to eventually grab the Sena from the inside, just waiting for Uddhav to take a mis-step or make one wrong move that would lead to his decimation.

Both cousins are, after all, chips of the same old block and whatever Bal Thackeray may or may not have been, he always had an unerring instinct for survival and rose from a paper tiger in the 1970s to embrace Hindutva ahead of even the BJP to keep his party relevant in the changing political economy of the 1980s. I am sure both Uddhav and Raj have inherited enough of those instincts to know how to deal with their own respective Catch-22 situations this century.

And if either of them really thinks like Bal Thackeray did, well, then, the BJP too has another think coming.