Ajit’s secularism, Uddhav’s Hindutva
Even though he joined the BJP-led alliance, Ajit Pawar has been insisting that his party would continue to be a secular party. To that effect, he has been avoiding sharing dais with RSS leaders
As anticipated, former Congress leader Baba Siddique joined Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party on Saturday. A prominent Muslim face in Mumbai Congress, Siddique was also known for his cordial relations with Bollywood personalities. His grand iftar parties attended by top stars used to be the talk of the town. As Bandra, the Beverly Hills of Bollywood, became one of the most sought-after locations and the quiet sea-side locality with quaint bungalows turned into a real estate hotspot, the builder-politician nexus thrived.
Siddique was elected as a municipal corporator in 1992 and later as Bandra west MLA for three terms from 1999. He was defeated by BJP’s Ashish Shelar in 2014. Soon after the BJP-led government came to power, a case was registered against him in an alleged ₹500 crore slum redevelopment scam. In the 2019 assembly election, he chose not to contest and instead obtained a ticket for his son Zeeshan from neighbouring Bandra (East) constituency. Zeeshan, now a Congress MLA, is likely to follow his father to NCP closer to the elections. It is being said that some more Muslim leaders from Congress are being lured by the NCP. Even though he joined the BJP-led alliance, Ajit Pawar has been insisting that his party would continue to be a secular party. To that effect, he has been avoiding sharing dais with RSS leaders.
Several of Ajit’s MLAs are elected from traditional NCP-Congress constituencies and hence it is necessary for him to maintain this stand. It is now coming in handy for the ruling alliance as minority legislators from Congress who can’t join BJP due to political compulsion or otherwise, can be accommodated in Ajit’s NCP. The Congress and its allies are banking on Marathi-speaking voters along with minorities and Dalits to win seats in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and some other cities. Hence, taking away some Muslim legislators from the main opposition party would help the ruling alliance.
On the other hand, for similar reasons, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray is insisting that he has not given up Hindutva. Both BJP and Shinde-led Shiv Sena are trying to take away traditional Shiv Sena voters by using the Hindu hardline. Thackeray wants to retain this support base. That’s why he visited Kala Ram temple in Nashik on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Ram temple at Ayodhya. In Mumbai and other cities, Thackeray faction workers took part in celebrations so as not to let the ruling parties walk away with the credit.
The contradiction in the ruling and opposition alliances is just one of the aspects that make the coming elections more complex than those in the past.
A new low
With intense political battle in the state following split in Shiv Sena and NCP, the public discourse is plunging new depths every day. Following the murder of Sena (UBT) leader Abhishek Ghosalkar, there is a war of words between deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Thackeray faction leaders. On Saturday, Uddhav Thackeray called Fadnavis a psychopath while the latter hit back saying that the former has lost his mental balance. Fadnavis’ remarks that opposition leaders will blame him even if a dog comes under someone’s vehicle, evoked strong reactions from the Opposition with Sanjay Raut going a step further and calling ruling party leaders as “dogs wagging their tails in Delhi”.
Before the string of firing incidents that led to the current spat, the atmosphere was vitiated by a bitter exchange between Maratha reservation activist Manoj Jarange-Patil and NCP minister Chhagan Bhujbal. Clearly politicians seem to have forgotten that the people are not amused with them for taking the public discourse to such a low level.
Criminals and the lure of social media
The state government is on the backfoot as Opposition leaders have been posting pictures of criminals seen with Eknath Shinde as well as his ministers. They have pointed out that a criminal from Pune even shot a reel in Mantralaya premises and posted it on social media. Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis, who heads the home department, seem to have taken the issue seriously. Little wonder then that in Pune, newly appointed police commissioner Amitesh Kumar summoned criminals and history sheeters to his office and warned them against criminal activities in the city. A police officer was heard telling them they should not be seen on social media not even posting reels. The attendees had no option but to nod quietly.
New parties and symbols
With Lok Sabha elections likely to be announced soon, the factions led by Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar are in a tearing hurry to get new names and symbols that will attract voters. The names given to their parties—Shiv Sena (UBT) and NCP-Sharadchandra Pawar—are interim and both the factions would have to get a new party registered. Doing this is a tedious task but anticipating that the Supreme Court’s ruling on disqualification petitions as well as Election Commission decision on parties may not come soon, the two leaders are not taking any chances.