Shiv Sena workers put up controversial banners in Mumbai on Wednesday that showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowing before late Sena chief Bal Thackeray, in an apparent barb that widened the rift with ally BJP ahead of a traditionally important Dussehra rally.
The posters that sprang up in the Sena stronghold of Dadar opposite the Sena headquarters, as well as in east Mumbai’s Ghatkopar, featured several leaders but reserved the biggest space for a photograph of Modi, when he was Gujarat CM, with folded hands before Thackeray.
“Have you forgotten those days or were you just pretending when your proud heads were bowed at the feet of Balasaheb,” read the text accompanying the photo. Many said the banners hit back at the PM’s for condemning a string of violent Sena protests.
The banners also contained photographs of senior BJP leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and friends-turned-foes like MNS chief Raj Thackeray and Congress leader Narayan Rane with Thackeray.
As photos of the posters went viral on social media, BJP leaders reacted with anger.
“Many times as the big brother in the alliance, one tolerates such things. We tolerate it because we want to run the government. Sena was the big brother until 2014 assembly polls and we got the bigger mandate,” said Girish Bapat, BJP leader and state minister.
The controversy forced a red-faced Matoshree to distance itself and the banners were taken down two hours later.
“The Sena has nothing to do with the banner. It doesn’t reflect the party’s views. Workers may have put it (up) in a fit of rage,” a party statement said.
The banners come amid spiking tensions between the two coalition partners who share power in Maharashtra. Ties frayed earlier this month after Sena protesters forced the cancellation of a concert by Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali and threw ink at Observer Research Foundation chief Sudheendra Kulkarni for organising the book launch of a former Pakistani foreign minister.
The relationship further soured after Modi called the incidents “sad” and “unfortunate” that angered the Sena. The posters are being seen as an attempt by certain sections of the party to hit back against Modi for those comments. Days later, Sena workers barged into the Indian cricket board’s office, forcing Indo-Pak cricket talks to be cancelled.
Some Sena leaders also threatened to not allow Pakistani actors Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan to come to Mumbai and promote their film but the party denied issuing such an ultimatum by late evening.
HT had reported on Thursday about the party leadership’s dilemma over the ambition to make the Sena a more liberal party against the wishes of its often unruly and violent cadres. Observers said the flip flop over the posters reflected this conundrum.
Rajendra Raut, the Sena leader whose name featured in the poster, denied putting it up. “We are all angry with the BJP for the way it has treated us. The banner is a reflection of the anger. However, I have not put the poster up.”
The Congress also criticised the poster as it contained a photograph of President Pranab Mukherjee with Thackeray, before he occupied the chair.