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BMC polls: Shiv Sena’s minority candidates dispel Hindutva image

Sena’s minority candidates are going door-to-door trying to convince voters about how the party has been misunderstood and how, from its roots, it has never been anti-minority

mumbai Updated: Feb 18, 2017 00:54 IST
Manasi Phadke
The Shiv Sena’s Behrampada candidate, Mohammed Halim Khan, campaigns ahead of the BMC polls in Mumbai.
The Shiv Sena’s Behrampada candidate, Mohammed Halim Khan, campaigns ahead of the BMC polls in Mumbai. (HT)

Twenty-one-year-old Neha Khurshidalam Shaikh walks along the narrow alleyways in the slums of her ward, her supporters booming on a loudspeaker, “Hum itihaas bana rahe hain. Aaj pehli baar Shiv Sena ne is ward se ek Muslim ko ticket diya hain. Aap sab is nayi shurvaat ko safal kijiye.” (We are creating history. For the first time, the Sena has given a ticket to a Muslim from this ward. Please make this new beginning successful).

Contesting for the Sena, known for its Hindutva and ‘sons of the soil’ agenda, as a party whose leader’s public addresses mostly begin with ‘My Hindu sisters and brothers,’ candidates such as Neha are working doubly hard. They are going door-to-door trying to convince voters about how the Shiv Sena has been misunderstood and how, from its roots, it has never been anti-minority.

Thirty-five-year-old Mohammed Halim Khan, the Sena’s candidate for Bandra’s Behrampada and Garib Nagar slums, says, “People are apprehensive about voting for the Shiv Sena here because they don’t know much about the its history. To dispel these notions, my campaign has been about telling people that it was Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray because of whom many Muslims living in slums have got houses, that we have got water supply. I am telling them that the party’s opposition to people reading namaaz on the roads was for their own benefit and from the point of view of expanding masjids and making space for people inside.”

This is not an easy task. The Srikrishna panel indicted Shiv Sena and the then party chief Bal Thackeray, underlining the party’s role in inciting violence during the December 1992-January 1993 communal riots in Mumbai. During the riots, some of the areas where the Shiv Sena has now propped up Muslim candidates were the worst affected. The report unambiguously stated Thackeray commanded his troops to retaliate with organised attacks against the Muslims.

The Sena, however, highlights its role in the riots as that of Mumbai’s saviour.

Khan explains to perplexed voters that even Chhatrapati Shivaji’s army had 35% Muslims, and any responsibility of the 1992-93 communal riots should be only on the Congress.

“The Congress government was in power then. The Mumbai police was under Congress’ helm. But the party didn’t protect us, and continued to use us as a vote-bank,” says Khan, who was earlier with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and defected to the Shiv Sena just before filing nominations for the Mumbai civic polls. The Shiv Sena has until now always been seen as a party for the protection of Hindutva and the Marathi ethos in Mumbai. Its mouthpiece, Saamna, and leaders have often targeted minorities, once saying that Muslims’ voting rights should be revoked as the community suffers from vote-bank politics, and that there is a threat to the country’s Hindus owing to the rising population of Christians and Muslims. However, with the February 21 civic elections having become a prestige issue for the Shiv Sena, which is seeking to protect its citadel of Mumbai from the rising influence of friend-turned-foe Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Sena has given special attention to Mumbai’s minority-dominated wards.

The party has fielded five Muslim candidates from areas in Amboli, Andheri (East), Bandra (East), Shivajinagar and Dharavi, and a Christian candidate from Bandra’s Pali village.

These particular wards mostly swayed in favour of the Congress or the Samajwadi Party, with community leaders saying they want secular faces.

When she talks to voters in the slums of Shivaji Nagar, Shabnam Shaikh, a 36-year-old Sena candidate insists she is this secular face, being a Muslim and contesting from a Hindutva-oriented party, when she talks to voters.

“I have seen Shiv Sena contesting from this ward for 20-25 years, but it has never won. But this time, by putting up a Muslim candidate, the Sena has won half the battle because voters have realised the Shiv Sena is also an alternative for us,” said Shaikh, who used to work with a telecom company before she decided to contest elections.

Among the Sena’s minority candidates is Brinelle George Fernandes, an East Indian Christian who is contesting from Pali village in Bandra. She talks about changes within the party under Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya’s leadership.

“They have a different way of going about things. There is none of the old ‘gunda giri’ (hooliganism). People used to be scared of the Shiv Sena, but they are opening their doors to me,” said Fernandes, a social worker who was approached for candidature two days ahead of filing nominations.

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