A battle half won for the Shiv Sena
Uddhav Thackeray is quietly having the last laugh. Just around the time that his cousin Thackeray was striking a deal with Karan Johar in Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s presence to pay Rs 5 crore into an army welfare fund as penalty for including Pakistani artistes in his film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, the Sena chief was in Goa striking one of his own. But this deal was a legitimate one and quite above boardmumbai Updated: Oct 29, 2016 18:23 IST
Uddhav Thackeray is quietly having the last laugh. Just around the time that his cousin Raj Thackeray was striking a deal with Karan Johar in Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s presence to pay Rs 5 crore into an army welfare fund as penalty for including Pakistani artistes in his film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, the Sena chief was in Goa striking one of his own, But this deal was a legitimate one and quite above board.
With elections to Goa approaching early next year, the Shiv Sena has now officially tied up with the Goa Suraksha Manch, a new party set up by Subhash Velingkar, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary who was bested by Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and has now struck out on his own.
The battle between Parrikar and Velingkar was over grants to English medium schools. According to Vinayak Prabhu, an analyst who hails from Goa and watches its politics closely, “Most English medium schools are run by Christian missionaries and they get double grants – one from the Catholic church and another from the government thus giving them an unfair advantage.’’ Marathi and Konkani schools thus have an uphill task keeping up with the missionary schools. Parrikar had promised to withdraw these government grants to the English medium schools during his election campaign in 2012 but with a 24 per cent Catholic population, no government can afford to alienate this substantial chunk of voters. In the running battle between the two, the RSS top brass, which does not want to lose Goa, sided with Parrikar and that led to Velingkar splitting from the party.
Now the Shiv Sena’s pre-poll alliance with the GSM is set to damage the BJP’s prospects at the February 2017 elections with all indications that despite a lethargic Congress, the BJP may be unable to retain its majority. The Goa assembly has just 40 members and it has been frequently observed in the past that barely one member or two make the difference between government and the opposition.
It was this tie-up of the Shiv Sena with the GSM at has rattled the BJP in Maharashtra which has been seeking to sideline the party which is its ally in government and yet its bitterest opponent. If the Sena were to win even a single seat in a hung Goa assembly, that would offer tremendous leverage to Uddhav to bargain with the BJP not just in Goa but also Maharashtra where it has its primary alliance with the party. Asked if this was not a betrayal of its long term ally, Uddhav said, quite correctly, “Our alliance is limited to Maharashtra. We have contested polls in other states too without any alliance with the BJP.’’
He is right – at the height of the Ayodhya movement in Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s, the Sena won its singular seat in the UP Assembly. It has gone on its own in states like Gujarat and even Goa in the past with limited success. Most recently it contested several seats in Bihar, cutting into the BJP’s votes in the face of a united opposition to the party in November 2015. But now the issue of language, which was the raison d’etre of the Sena in Maharashtra and the reason for its foundation in the first place, is what has united Subhash Velingkar and Uddhav Thackeray for Velingkr too is fighting for the supremacy of Konkani over Rnglish as Bal Thackeray had done for Marathi in the 1960s.
“Marathi is my mother but Konkani is my maushi (mother’s sister),’’Uddhav said in a nuanced reply to a question about the Goans preference for Konkani over Marathi.
Uddhav is well aware of the fact that Goans had rebelled against integration with Maharashtra after liberation from the Portuguese and that even a whiff of an attempt to dominate Goans over the language issue could backfire on his party.
However, the alliance with the GSM is all set to dent the BJP not just in Goa but also the adjoining districts in Maharashtra which are on the cusp of local self government elections. The BJP is not confident of beating the Sena at the crucial election to the Brihanmumbai Corporation (BMC) and playing Raj Thackeray against Uddhav might have seemed like a good idea at the time which prompted Fadnavis to broker a deal between the MNS and Johar. However, the huge backlash, which,included disapproving statements from Parrikar and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu has unnerved the State BJP which seems to have scored a self-goal in the process.
Uddhav was not beyond his own sarcasm on the issue. In response to a question on what he thought about the deal struck between Johar and Raj, he said, “I have heard there is a new movie in the offing starring these three actors (Fadnavis, Raj and Joha). It is being titled Yeh toh hona hi thaa!’’
But there is a deep political nuance beind that humour. Uddhav knows the BJP is nervous about both the BMC and Goa assembly polls and he is expecting the party to trip itself up in its eagerness to cut the Shiv Sena down to size. However, the BJP seems to have picked on the wrong man for that job. Raj now has very little following and has been unable to evolve and grasp modern day issues as his cousin Uddhav has in some measure. Raj is now being seen as little more than an extortionist and the horror of that revelation is showing in his response and body language. Both the BJP and the MNS may have shot themselves in the foot and that is half the battle won for the Sena in both the BMC and Goa.
No wonder Uddhav is laughing up his sleeve – and perhaps he may be laughing all the way to the electoral bank in the coming weeks