Different shades of saffron | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Different shades of saffron

Jan 22, 2024 07:48 AM IST

With the consecration ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena are embracing saffron politics, while the NCP is in a tricky situation, not fully embracing Hindutva but not ignoring it either. Meanwhile, the Congress and NCP are clear in their stand, and Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena is using its own version of Hindutva. The question remains which shade of saffron will gain public support. Additionally, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde is trying to build an alliance with the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi for the upcoming elections, and the development of Mumbai Port Trust's idle land is still awaiting approval. Lastly, the disqualification petitions filed by rival NCP factions are being heard by Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar, and the Pawar faction is prepared for a possible court battle.

With the consecration ceremony or pran pratishhta of the Ram temple in Ayodhya scheduled on Monday, the BJP is going all out to paint the state saffron. So is its alliance partner, the chief minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena. A saffron wave would be of great help for Shinde’s party, which is wary of the Uddhav Thackeray faction setting the narrative against them by calling them “gaddars” or traitors. Their third partner in the alliance, the Ajit Pawar-led faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) finds itself in a tricky situation. Though it had decided earlier that it would not embrace the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Hindutva agenda and stick to the original agenda of the NCP based on secularism, it cannot completely ignore what is happening around. As such, the Ajit Pawar-led NCP is not organising any programmes as a party, but some of its leaders are participating in events at the local level.

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On the other side of the political divide, the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP are clear about their stand, while the third partner in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has its own version of Hindutva. Thackeray doesn’t want to give up on Hindutva and at the same time, maintain a distinct identity from that of the BJP. He is using the brand of Hindutva borrowed from his grandfather, social reformist Prabhodhankar Keshav Thackeray, who used to slam superstitions and rituals while supporting the religion.

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On the Ram temple issue, the Thackeray faction’s strategy is to appropriate the same without toeing the BJP line. Last week, Shiv Sena (UBT) held a meeting at the Shiv Sena Bhavan and felicitated workers who had participated in kar seva. On Monday, the party will hold a maha-arati at the famous Kalaram temple in Nashik, where Thackeray himself will be present. He will also felicitate Shiv Sainiks who had participated in kar seva at Ayodhya. On Tuesday, when the party holds its convention, an exhibition will be on display featuring newspaper reports from the time of the Babri Masjid demolition, interview of Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray and discharge cards of those who were arrested and put in jail during the time.

So, which shade of saffron will people support?

Foes turn friends

During the election season, it doesn’t take long for sworn rivals to turn into the best of friends. It was not a surprise, thus, when chief minister Eknath Shinde was the chief guest at the Jagatik Marathi Sammelan, an event to promote Marathi language, organised at Virar. The host was Vasai-Virar strongman and head of the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA) Hitendra Thakur. In the 2019 assembly elections, Thakur and Shiv Sena were at loggerheads – Shinde had taken responsibility of defeating Thaukur in his Nalasopara constituency and fielded former encounter specialist cop Pradeep Sharma. The election became so bitter that at one point, Thakur’s family members publicly said that they feared for his life. Thakur won the election with a significant margin.

Now, things seem to have changed. Shinde was all praise for Thakur when he spoke. He even assured his support to the BVA chief in his endeavours. The development indicates that Shinde is trying to get Thakur’s BVA on board for the coming elections. The Palghar Lok Sabha constituency is represented by the Shinde-led Sena’s Rajendra Gavit. Thakur’s BVA has influence in the belt between Vasai and Palghar, which could be useful for Shinde.

MTHL opened, what about port trust land?

Opening of the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) marks a milestone in the transformation of Mumbai, as it connects south Mumbai with the mainland. Other important projects that would further boost Mumbai are the Navi Mumbai international airport and the metro network, which are under various stages of construction. But an ambitious project that could have significantly transformed the island city is far from seeing the light of day. Development of Mumbai Port Trust’s 600-acre idle land was initiated by Nitin Gadkari during his tenure as union shipping minister, and there were proposals to build a new Marine Drive type promenade, various public amenities and a new business hub. Officers handling Mumbai’s transformation keep pointing out how the project is still awaiting a nod from the centre.

Same set of legal advisors

As assembly speaker Rahul Narwekar begins hearing the disqualification petitions filed by rival NCP factions, leaders from the Pawar faction say they won’t be surprised if the verdict is similar to the Shiv Sena case. The strategy used by Shinde in splitting and taking over the Shiv Sena was copied in case of the NCP, they say. Interestingly, the same set of legal experts in Delhi who worked on the Sena split have been roped in for advice on the NCP split.

The only difference is that while the Election Commission of India ruled in favour of Shinde before the speaker could commence the hearing, the same has not happened in case of the NCP. While Narwekar has insisted that any two cases of disqualification cannot be same, Pawar faction leaders are not taking any chances. They have kept their plan B for a court battle ready.

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    Shailesh Gaikwad is political editor and heads the political bureau in Hindustan Times' Mumbai edition.In his career of over 20 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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