Forced to drop its call for an extended meat ban in Mumbai, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday launched a fresh attack on the Shiv Sena, alleging that its ally raked up the issue to divert attention from the BMC’s nullah (drain) desilting scam. The Shiv Sena quickly hit back, saying the BJP was free to probe “whatever it wants” while saying that pursuing the matter would lead to an “unwanted situation”.
The meat ban controversy sparked a bitter tussle between the two parties from the outset, when BJP legislators demanded an eight-day ban on the sale of meat in Mumbai. The Shiv Sena strongly opposed this, and when other parties came out against the ban too, the BJP was left isolated. The ban was eventually reduced to two days.
Even as it seemed like the issue would die down quietly, Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar added fuel to the controversy on Saturday, claiming that the reason for the Shiv Sena’s strong opposition to the meat ban was the state government’s crackdown on the nullah cleaning scam . “We suspect that there is corruption to the tune of Rs 100 crore in nullah cleaning work. As soon as the crackdown began, the meat ban was raked up. Our government also came down heavily on octroi evasion,” Shelar said at a party function.
BMC chief Ajoy Mehta had ordered an inquiry into the alleged nexus between contractors and civic engineers after shoddy work – despite spending over Rs 200 crore of taxpayers’ money – caused widespread flooding in Mumbai during the season’s first downpour in June.
While Shelar tried to corner the Shiv Sena, Jains in Bhayandar – where the BJP-run municipal corporation first imposed an eight-day meat ban – fasted to protest against the Shiv Sena and the MNS. Jain gurus who spoke at the protest asked the Shiv Sena not to “forget history” (that Bombay was once a state that included parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat).
These remarks – and those of Shelar – did not go down well with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. “We want to draw curtain on this issue but if people are going to make irresponsible comments then there will be an unwanted situation,” Thackeray said in Aurangabad.
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“The state government can conduct whatever probe it wants. Probe the nullah cleaning work and put everything that comes out of it before the people. At the same time, they (BJP) should explain why there was flooding in Nagpur and Ahmedabad, where they run things,” he added. Thackeray, who was on a tour of drought-hit Marathwada, also made it a point to demand financial aid for farmers from the BJP-led central government. “The centre is giving a package to Bihar. It should also help farmers in Maharashtra who are in distress,” said Thackeray.
The two parties have been at loggerheads even though they are alliance partners in the central and state governments and in the BMC. Following the assembly elections of 2014, in which it emerged the largest party in Maharashtra, the BJP has begun a systematic campaign to wrest control of the BMC from the Shiv Sena in the civic elections scheduled for February 2017. The two parties have been running the civic body together for two decades but the Shiv Sena has always been the big brother here.
Aware of these plans, the Shiv Sena grabbed the opportunity to corner the BJP when its legislators demanded to a ban on the slaughter of animals and sale of meat for eight days in Mumbai. The issue evoked strong reactions from various communities, including Maharashtrians, who are largely non-vegetarians. Realising that the controversy could cost it votes, the BJP backed out. However, the bitterness remains, as is evident from Shelar’s comments.
While the BJP and Shiv Sena seem ready to bury the hatchet, other parties are not as keen. The MNS, which has demanded that the state government withdraw its 2004 resolution that imposes a two-day meat ban, will continue to stage protests.
“The Jain gurus claimed their community has played a major role in Mumbai’s development. It is imperative to remind that Mumbai belongs to the Marathi community and not them,” said MNS corporator Sandeep Deshpande. Crudely, the MNS has also planned a non-vegetarian party outside a Jain society at Vile Parle on Sunday. “Since the holy month of Shravan ends on Sunday, we have organised a non-veg party. No one can deny us the right to eat our food,” Deshpande added.