A day after Shiv Sena workers assaulted Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), for organising a function to release a book written by former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, tensions between the Shiv Sena and BJP escalated further. The Shiv Sena targeted CM Devendra Fadnavis, one of its biggest backers in the BJP, for saying that the attack on Kulkarni had brought Maharashtra into disrepute. It also justified its agitation and the ink attack as ‘patriotism’.
On Tuesday, party chief Uddhav Thackeray invited the workers, who waylaid Kulkarni on Monday, to his home Matoshree, where he commended them for their actions.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut criticised Fadnavis, claiming he had failed to understand Maharashtra. “It is his statement that our agitation gave Maharashtra a bad name that has actually given the state a bad name,” said Raut, signalling an escalation in hostilities.
He added, “Fadnavis must explain just how we brought Maharashtra into disrepute. The Sena’s actions have consistently made Maharashtra proud. In fact, it’s because of Balasaheb that Hindutva grew as an ideology and heled the BJP expand across the nation.”
This is the first time Fadnavis, who has backed the Sena over the NCP as the BJP’s natural ally, has been openly targeted by his alliance partner.
Raut also likened Kulkarni’s attackers to soldiers and Uddhav’s commendation of them to gallantry awards. “Our soldiers who fight against Pakistan on our borders are felicitated with the Ashok Chakra, the Vir Chakra and the Param Vir Chakra. What is wrong if Uddhavji similarly felicitates our Sainiks who have fought against Pakistan?”
The BJP hit back through party spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, who said the Shiv Sena need not give BJP lessons in patriotism or nationalism.
“One doesn’t become patriotic only by giving sound-bytes and writing editorials. BJP leaders faced jail during the Emergency. Our founder president Shyama Prasad Mukherjee died a martyr’s death in Kashmir and our student-wing leaders, including chief minister Fadnavis and education minister Vinod Tawde, participated in agitations for the Kashmir Bachao Andolan then,” said Bhandari.
Ashish Shelar, the BJP’s Mumbai chief, went a step further and questioned the Shiv Sena’s “so called patriotism”, recalling the time the party invited Pakistani cricketer Javed Mianded, whose son is married to Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter, to Bal Thackeray’s home in the 1990s.
“What happened to your love for the nation when you openly supported actor Sanjay Dutt, then accused and now convicted for the 1993 blasts?’’ Shelar asked.
Bhandari said that the Shiv Sena’s comment on Fadnavis was “totally unwarranted” as the curtain had been drawn on the episode after party withdrew its agitation over Monday’s book launch.
Tuesday’s tussle between the two parties was not restricted to a war of words – the two parties also decided to go solo in the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) polls by filing separate nominations. The KDMC polls are seen as a stepping stone for the all-important 2017 BMC elections.
Despite all this, however, there were indications of reconciliation by late evening, with various leaders saying that the allies were not ready to call it quits just yet.
Shiv Sena ministers have not been given orders to boycott the state cabinet on Wednesday. Several Shiv Sena ministers, including transport minister Diwakar Raote and health minister Deepak Sawant spent the day in Mantralaya, perusing files.
Fadnavis for his part chose to keep mum on the Shiv Sena’s remarks and instead undertook a review of the health department, led by Shiv Sena minister Deepak Sawant, at the state secretariat.
In an indirect admission that there were no plans to rock the boat of the saffron government any time soon, Raut, when asked if his party ministers would quit the government, said, “If they (BJP) don’t like our views on nationalism and are uncomfortable, they should quit the government. Why are we being asked this question?” He added that the party president will address the issue when the time is right.
So will the allies continue their bitter war and create more problems for their alliance? The picture is likely to be clearer on Wednesday, when the state cabinet will meet for the first time since the controversies around Uddhav Thackeray skipping Modi’s functions, the cancelled Ghulam Ali concert and the attack on Kulkarni.