The Shiv Sena has remained largely silent on the ongoing Maratha protests, but a cartoon it published in its mouthpiece Saamana got not only ally BJP and the Opposition leaders criticising it, but also riled its own senior leaders from the Maratha community.
The party felt tremors from within when a handful of its senior leaders from the Buldhana district that has a large presence of the community threatened to resign, upset with the disrespect to the Marathas in the cartoon.
The cartoon that riled the community was a three-paneled caricature published on Sunday showing different types of protestors, including a man kissing a woman —playing on the words ‘muk morcha’ (silent protest) as ‘muka morcha’ (kissing protest).
Party sources said MP Prataprao Jadhav, and MLAs Sanjay Raimulkar and Shashikant Khedekar, from the Buldhana district met Sena ministers Eknath Shinde, minister of state Arjun Khotkar and MLA Hemant Patil from Nanded to express discontent.
“The three leaders are ready to offer resignations, while two other legislators are considering it too. The Sena has certain traditions and they don’t want to take a step without first discussing it with party president Uddhav Thackeray,” the source said.
Harshal Pradhan, party spokesperson, said no Shiv Sena legislator, MP or office bearer has submitted their resignation.
The Sena’s foot-soldiers and office-bearers at the grassroots, were also disgruntled with the cartoon. One such worker, Bhaskarrao Bhange, the Sena’s deputy chief for the Karmala taluka in Solapur, wrote to the party district head: “I condemn the cartoon published in the September 25 edition of Saamana. I am stepping down from my post. If Shiv Sena needs votes of Marathas, then Uddhav Thackeray should immediately clarify his position on the Maratha protests. Otherwise, one by one, all Maratha Shiv Sainiks are bound to resign.”
Sanpada(Maha):Protesters agitated over cartoon related to Maratha protests,pelted stones at Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna office,earlier today pic.twitter.com/76OC9iAcsa— ANI (@ANI_news) September 27, 2016
The party also saw stones being pelted at a Saamana printing press in Sanpada, Navi Mumbai on Tuesday. A few protesters threw ink on the publication’s Thane office. On Monday too, copies of the publication were burnt across the state and a section of Marathas protested outside the cartoonist’s home in Vile Parle.
The cartoon got leaders from across political parties censuring the Shiv Sena for hurting the sentiments of the Maratha community – some even went as far as calling it an anti-Maratha party.
Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, opposition leader in the Assembly, demanded an apology from Thackeray. He called the cartoon highly offensive, not just for the Maratha community, but for women too.
“The cartoon raises a question on the motives of women wanting to be a part of the protests. We already knew Sena is an antiDalit and anti-Muslim party. But through this cartoon, we now know it is also an anti-Maratha party,” the Congress leader said.
“The state government should register an offence against Saamana. The cartoon has disrespected martyred soldiers, their families, the police as well as women. This shows the abnormal mindset of the Shiv Sena,” said the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Dhananjay Munde, the leader of opposition in the upper house.
BJP’s Ashish Shelar chose to specifically target the Saamana’s editor Sanjay Raut, a senior Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP. The Mumbai BJP chief tweeted, “Looking at the antics of the executive editor, one feels like calling him a cartoon. He has hurt the sentiments of the Maratha community and should apologise.”
Sena’s Subhash Desai, however, lashed out at the Congress and NCP for politicising an issue even after it was nipped in the bud.
“The Opposition leaders are trying to fuel the environment again even after the Maratha Kranti Morcha has exposed the miscreants responsible for inciting the controversy over the Saamana cartoon. In reality it is only because of the Congress and NCP the Maratha community has to take to the streets today,” the senior legislator and state cabinet minister said. Desai said Uddhav Thackeray had always shown full support to the Maratha protests and instructed Sena members too to cooperate with the organisers.
In damage-control mode, Saamana carried a front-page news article about the Marathi Kranti Morcha, condemning the protests against the cartoon in a press conference in Thane. Next to the article, Saamana also published a column saying there was no question of the party hurting the feelings of the Maratha community.
Quoting its editor Sanjay Raut, the Saamna column said the Maratha protests are not political, but sentimental, and there is no question of hurting the sentiments that Shiv Sena is in support of.