The anti-Valentine narrative appears to be changing, for the better. On Valentine’s Day, the Right appears to have its heart in the right place. But do outfits such as the Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena mean what they say when they pronounce that their cadre won’t harass couples out celebrating the Festival of Love?
Not so long ago, both the Bajrang Dal (the youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad), the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), opposed Valentine’s Day as a western construct and decried the hype surrounding the mush-fest. It wasn’t uncommon to find MNS and Shiv Sena activists smashing display windows of shops with Valentine’s Day decorations and burning bonfires of Valentine’s Day greeting cards. A few years back, they even threatened to coerce couples into garlanding each other if they caught them indulging in displays of affection. And then there was Pramod Muthalik of the Mangalore-based Sri Ram Sene who threatened to marry off young couples found together on this day.
But over the last few years, the parties seem to have softened. On Valentine’s Day last year, the MNS set up a selfie point in Mumbai and decorated it with heart-shaped balloons for lovebirds to take pictures. MNS vice president Vageesh Saraswat even released a song called ‘You are my Valentine’, said to be inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Unending Love.
It isn’t that outfits such as the Shiv Sena, which feasts on antipathy towards migrants and minorities, have suddenly developed a faith in the legend of St Valentine. The ‘progressive’ twist could have been brought about by a political compulsion: The Shiv Sena wants to wrest back the ground it has conceded to Raj Thackeray’s MNS in terms of young voters, particularly since elections for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation are just days away. That’s the message its youth wing head Aditya Thackeray could have been sending out when he condemned harassment of couples on Valentine’s Day last year. Being pro-youth does create the right optics for today’s politicians. No wonder Akhilesh Yadav and wife Dimple posed on the Lovers Bench at the Taj on Valentine’s Day in 2015.