After a poor show in the Lok Sabha polls, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is back with its tried-and-tested formula: stir up the anti-Brahmin sentiment to consolidate the Bahujan votebank in western Maharashtra.
At a rally in Kolhapur on Tuesday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar targeted the Dharm-sansad, a group comprising Hindu religious leaders, over the Sai Baba controversy. “Questions are being asked on whether Sai Baba was Brahmin or Muslim. In the past, too, other saints like Dnyaneshwar and rulers like Shivaji have been targeted in this fashion,” Pawar said, lashing out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for backing such groups and indulging in cause divisive politics.
Western Maharashtra, which has Maratha population in majority, has always backed the NCP. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, too, the party won all four seats from the region. According to political observers, Pawar’s remarks are an attempt to keep the party’s Maratha votebank in western Maharashtra intact.
Pawar’s reference to Shivaji was in context of the book, Hindu King in Islamic India, written by American author James Laine. The book raised questions on Shivaji’s parentage, leading to a major political storm in 2004 and an attack on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune. While the NCP-controlled home ministry had banned the book, the party used the controversy to win the Maratha votes, by whipping up anti-Brahmin sentiments. BJP leader Vinod Tawde accused the NCP resorting to caste politics. "The NCP is back to its caste politics agenda. While NCP leaders point to BJP's Brahmin faces, it has ignored me and Eknath Khadse, who are not Brahmins," Tawde said, in a TV programme.