Floundering after Raj Thackeray’s aggressive Maharashtra Navnirman Sena usurped a big share of its Maharashtrian votes in successive elections, a desperate Shiv Sena lashed out on Wednesday at several high-profile targets.
In an effort to regain its position as the sole champion of the Marathi manoos, the Sena spokesperson threatened Shah Rukh Khan for supporting Pakistani cricket players while the party’s mouthpiece, Saamna, hurled abuse at Rahul Gandhi for highlighting Indians’ constitutional right to live and work where they want.
“Yes, there is a connection between our defeat in the assembly elections and our aggressive stance,” Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena’s executive president, told HT.
Shocked by the erosion of its vote share from 20 per cent in 2004 to 17 per cent in the May 2009 parliamentary poll, which went down further by 3 percentage points in the assembly elections six months later, the Sena has been casting around for ways to make itself relevant once again.
“Shah Rukh Khan should not forget that his bungalow is in Mumbai,” said Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson. The Saamna editorial said Rahul Gandhi had “lost his mental balance”.
The actor stood his ground, even though his film, My Name is Khan, is slated for release on February 12, saying in New York that he did not regret anything he said. In contrast, Karan Johar apologised to Raj Thackeray for using ‘Bombay’ instead of ‘Mumbai’¦ in his film, Wake up Sid, while Amitabh Bachchan praised Bal Thackeray on his blog.
The state government took a firm line. “We will ensure that all the theatres showing (Khan’s) movie will have adequate security,” said R.R. Patil, the home minister. “If there is loss of property, then the Shiv Sena will have to pay for it, if it steps beyond law we will take action against them.”
At the same time, the Maharashtra cabinet affirmed a 1989 amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act to make a working knowledge of Marathi mandatory for all taxi drivers seeking permits, after NCP ministers criticised CM Ashok Chavan for going back on his announcement to implement this rule.
Because the margins in many constituencies in the elections were so thin, both the ruling Congress and its partner in the state, the Nationalist Congress Party, have been also been trying to woo ‘sons of the soil’.