Twelve years ago, they won power in a traditionally Congress-ruled state, thanks to a sharp polarisation of Hindu-Muslim votes in the backdrop of the demolition of Babri Masjid and subsequent riots in the city that left over 900 dead.
Now, as the Congress-led Democratic Front government moves in to reopen the riot cases, the Shiv Sena and BJP are preparing to oppose it. “We will come out on the streets if the commission report recommendations are implemented for revenge against Sena and with political vendetta against the Hindu community,” warned Sena Executive President Uddhav Thackeray at a party function two days ago.
Reopening of the riot cases would mean legal action against several Sena-BJP leaders and activists accused of inciting violence in the Srikrishna Commission report. But many in the saffron camp see this as an opportunity to turn the tide against the ruling Congress-NCP government. “There is an element of sympathy for Sena-BJP among sections of Hindus when it comes to riots. If the Congress government is hell bent on raking up the cases, it will help us to revive that sympathy factor,” said a key Sena leader.
In the first assembly elections after the riots in 1995, the saffron brigade reaped the benefits of polarisation of votes. The Sena-BJP bagged 30 out of 34 assembly seats in Mumbai. Areas such as Konkan and North Maharashtra from where a major section of working population comes to Mumbai were influenced by incidents in Mumbai and voted the Congress out.
The saffron brigade managed to cross the 130 mark in the assembly after victories in Mumbai, Konkan and North Maharashtra and formed its first government in the state. Reacting for the first time on the governments move to implement the report, Thackeray said, “The Congress is there for Muslim community, and so is Sena for Hindu.” Urging party cadre to be prepared to fight terrorism, Thackeray said: “Sena’s agenda of Hindutva will keep going."