Looking to put an end to the cartoon controversy that left the party politically isolated, as well as assuage the party’s own cadre from the Maratha community, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday apologised for hurting sentiments of the Marathas, especially women from the community.
Thackeray said the intention of the cartoon published in the party’s mouthpiece, Saamna, on Sunday was not to hurt anyone, and apologised in the capacity of Saamana’s editor.
The contentious cartoon was a three-paneled caricature published in a Saamana supplement last Sunday. The caricature lampooned the ongoing Maratha protests, playing on the words ‘muk morcha’ (silent protests) as ‘muka morcha’ or kissing protests. The Marathas, who constitute 32 per cent of Maharashtra’s population, have been protesting for reservations in government jobs and education and amendments to the atrocities act, alleging its misuse.
“The entire episode has deeply hurt us. Although the atmosphere has now cooled down, my mind has not. Any person who disrespects a woman can never be a Shiv Sainik. I am expressing these feelings today remembering my own mother,” Thackeray said, addressing a press conference with senior Sena leaders Subhash Desai, Diwakar Raote and Sada Sarvankar. Samana’s executive editor, Sanjay Raut, was not present.
Both Thackeray as well as Raut have been under immense pressure with leaders across political parties criticising the Sena for the cartoon and demanding apologies. The party also felt tremors from within as several of its own leaders across ranks were disgruntled.
Three senior leaders from the Buldhana district—MP Prataprao Jadhav, and legislators Sanjay Raimulkar and Shashikant Khedkar—even threatened to quit the party, only to be soothed later by Thackeray.
While Thackeray apologised, he also said that the controversy was politically instigated and the party has been in the process of identifying the forces behind it.
“We will give a befitting reply to those who have been attempting to politically corner the Sena on the whole issue. I will elaborate more on this during our Dussehra gathering on October 11,” Thackeray said.
Party sources said, the leader is expected to stress on the Sena’s history about how the party has always been very inclusive and never played caste politics or caste favouritism. “We have never looked at a person’s caste while selecting candidates for election or while appointing office bearers at all levels. The cartoon went unnoticed for nearly two days after it was published, and then suddenly caused an uproar. This was definitely an attempt by some forces to draw the party into casteist politics and corner it,” a Shiv Sena leader said.
In face of widespread protests against the Sena during which copies of Saamana were burnt across the state and the publication’s office in Navi Mumbai was vandalised, the party initially tried to put the blame for the cartoon on the caricaturist Srinivas Prabhudesai by publishing his front-page apology in the mouthpiece. However, demands for a direct apology from Raut and Thackeray continued to persist.
A senior Sena leader said, “There was discontent among people, though it was never our intention. At a gathering in Mumbai to discuss Maratha protests in the city, there were also talks of how all Marathas should boycott the Shiv Sena’s upcoming Dussehra rally. Sensing the extreme sentiments among the Marathas, our chief decided to apologise and put the matter to rest.”
Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Dhananjay Munde who was one of the leaders to strongly criticise the Shiv Sena for the cartoon and demand Thackeray’s apology said the apology has come too late. “It is too little, too late. Besides, the party itself is responsible for starting the controversy. Thackeray should not point fingers at others,” said Munde, also the leader of opposition in the legislative council.