‘Marathi manoos’ agenda: Shiv Sena’s answer to BJP - Hindustan Times
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‘Marathi manoos’ agenda: Shiv Sena’s answer to BJP

Apr 23, 2021 12:58 AM IST

The Shiv Sena, which is at the receiving end of an all-out attack by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is using its time-tested formula to get back at its bete noire

The Shiv Sena, which is at the receiving end of an all-out attack by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is using its time-tested formula to get back at its bete noire.

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With around 10 months to go for the prestigious Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election, the Sena has reignited the ‘Marathi manoos’ plank to corner the Opposition party. The Sena has raked the issue around 480-km south of the Maximum City in Belgaum, Karnataka, while campaigning for the Lok Sabha bypoll. Political analysts opined that the agenda would have an influence in the city’s civic polls.

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Apart of the Belgaum issue, the Sena has subtly painted the ongoing tussle between the Centre and the state government led by the party, over oxygen supply and shortage of Remdesivir.

Former Union minister and Sena parliamentarian Arvind Sawant said that while the Centre says that Maharashtra is the most-affected state due to Covid-19, they do not provide adequate and timely assistance even though all powers rest with them.

“They claim [Covid-19] numbers are fewer in other states, but they are providing more [vaccinations, drugs, oxygen] to such states, but not to Maharashtra. Be it any issue related to Maharashtra, the Centre has always denied its legitimate right. For example, other border disputes of states, which cropped up later, were resolved but not the Belgaum border issue,” Sawant said.

Party’s chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut claimed that if Maharashtra is deprived of assistance, it will hurt the economy of the country. “PM and Union home minister Amit Shah should give equal attention to Maharashtra as they give to other states, because this is also a part of the country. The manner in which Maharashtra is being treated raises question whether this is an attempt to disrupt the state’s economy. If it is being done during coronavirus [pandemic], then it is vicious and unfortunate,” he told reporters earlier on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the Union ministers and those from the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) were engaged in a war of words over the issue of vaccination. MVA ministers said that they had run out of vaccines, leading to the closure of several centres. The Union ministers hit back stating that adequate doses had been provided to the state. Subsequently, the state and Centre clashed over Remdesivir and oxygen supply.

For the Shiv Sena, which was established in 1966 to take up the issues of the Marathi-speaking population in Mumbai and Maharashtra, the agenda remains at its core, even though the party had adopted the larger issue of Hindutva to reach out to a wider audience. The Hindutva thread of the party, however, has been questioned after it junked the alliance with BJP and joined hands with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress – parties that are termed secular – in November 2019.

Besides wooing the Gujarati, Jain and Marwari communities, Sena seems to be consolidating its traditional voter base of middle-class Marathi population, which could split to Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in BMC polls, thereby likely benefitting BJP.

Earlier this month, Shiv Sena extended support to Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) candidate Shubham Shelke in the bypoll on the Belgaum seat. During the two-day campaign visit to the city, Raut took on Maharashtra’s BJP leaders for campaigning against Shelke, a candidate from an outfit that has been fighting for the regions’ unification with Maharashtra for five decades. As Union minister and senior BJP leader from Maharashtra Nitin Gadkari and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis campaigned in Belgaum last week, Sena said they have “cheated” the Marathi people of the state.

Referring to Fadnavis, Raut said, “At least Marathi politicians from Maharashtra should not campaign against a Marathi candidate in Belgaum. “Fadnavis has been a former Maharashtra CM. During his tenure, MES leaders had met him and he had assured them that the Maharashtra government and BJP were firmly with MES on the merger of the Marathi-speaking areas in Karnataka into Maharashtra. But he is taking a different stand now.”

Echoing Raut’s views, Sawant said, “Look at BJP’s stand now. When he [Fadnavis] was CM, he had passed resolutions, but now campaigned against the people he vowed to support. Now everybody knows that they [BJP] are not for the Marathi people and the people of Belgaum.”

He added that Uddhav Thackeray has spoken firmly on the integration of Belgaum. “This is not a political stand of the party but a thread we share with Marathi people. In 1969, we agitated [for integration of Marathi-speaking areas with Maharashtra] and lost around 69 people. [Late Shiv Sena supremo] Balasaheb [Thackeray] was behind bars for three months for the same issue. The issues of Marathi people will remain at the core of Shiv Sena,” he said.

In his weekly column published on Sunday, Raut wrote that the entire Marathi community has united under the saffron flag after a long time, during the bypoll for 26-year-old Shelke. He added that the community has been fighting for their “rights and to preserve their culture” for decades but “neither the Centre nor the courts are giving them justice.”

“The apathy of Maharashtra’s politicians is weakening the fight… Former CM Fadnavis, under whose leadership the resolution on the unification of Belgaum-Karwar region with Maharashtra was passed, went to Belgaum to campaign against Ekikaran Samiti’s Marathi candidate. This is the misfortune of entire Maharashtra. He could have avoided going to Belgaum,” Raut wrote in his column.

Political analyst Surendra Jondhale said Shiv Sena has remained consistent in its stand on the Belgaum issue. However, the timing is crucial. “Sena over the years has been vocal about the border issue. So, there are no surprises there. However, the political language at this juncture will have an influence in the future. They have showed that they have not forgotten its core ideology. The political messaging will be carried forward, with BMC elections around nine to 10 months away,” said Jondhale, a former professor of political science at the Mumbai University.

Maharashtra BJP chief spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said that Sena has forgotten the cause of Marathi manoos for the sake of power.

“ The Sena and its allies are blaming the Centre for its failure to handle the Covid-19 pandemic in Maharashtra. Last year, the Covid situation was new for everybody. Yet, the central government provide all assistance to the states. [But] In the past nine months, what planning did the MVA government do for beds, oxygen, Remdesivir? Nothing. Their focus was on reinstating [former cop] Sachin Vaze and raise 100 crore. Besides, the Sena had long-forgotten the cause of Marathi people for the sake of power. They are merely raking up the issue from Belgaum, but in reality what have they done?” asked Upadhye.

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