As Saamna cartoon triggers controversy, Shiv Sena jumps into firefighting
The Shiv Sena sought to make amends on Wednesday after it riled some of its leaders with a recent cartoon in its mouthpiece over the ongoing Maratha protests. The party also tried to veer focus away from the controversy by directing anger against the Muslims.india Updated: Sep 28, 2016 20:33 IST
The Shiv Sena sought to make amends on Wednesday after it riled some of its leaders with a recent cartoon in its mouthpiece over the ongoing Maratha protests. The party also tried to veer focus away from the controversy by directing anger against the Muslims.
On Wednesday, party president Uddhav Thackeray convened a meeting of upset Sena leaders. The meeting held at Thackeray’s residence, Matoshree, was also attended by Sena ministers in the Maharashtra government. The discussion focused on pacifying the Maratha community.
The move came a day after the Sena resorted to damage-control by issuing a clarification over the Saamna caricature, but that met with little acceptance. It prompted the party to go for a diversionary tactic, as the party mouthpiece on Wednesday published an editorial that spoke of the Muslims.
“It is surprising that Muslim leaders give a call saying ‘even we will protest, heat up the atmosphere’ at a time when there is trust being shown (by the government) towards the Muslims,” the editorial said.
A Sena leader said the party was supporting the Maratha protests in districts where it has a hold. “All those protests were disciplined,” he said. “Now people were really angry with the cartoon Saamna published; it has hurt the protestors’ sentiments. We got many calls expressing resentment.”
The Saamna cartoon on Sunday was a three-panelled caricature showing different types of protesters, including a man kissing a woman, playing on the words ‘muk morcha’ (silent protests) as ‘muka morcha’ (kissing protest).
Marathas have been demanding reservations in education and government jobs. The community also wants a review and amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, saying its provisions were being misused.
A page-one “clarification” Saamna carried on Tuesday said rumours were being spread on social media over the cartoon when the intention of the artist was not to hurt the sentiments of the Maratha community.
The newspaper also published a clarification by the caricaturist, Sriniwas Prabhudesai. “My cartoon has hurt sentiments of the Maratha community but that was not the intention behind it in any way,” he said. “There has been an attempt to politicize the issue and draw Sena and Saamna into it.”
At least three leaders from Buldhana district in Marathwada — MP Prataprao Jadhav and legislators Sanjay Raimulkar and Shashikant Khedkar — threatened to resign over the cartoon, but they were pacified, according to sources.
Marathwada or central Maharashtra is considered the state’s caste cauldron. It is here that the first Maratha silent protests were held even though it was a July 13 rape of a teenager in Ahmednagar district that triggered the protests.
The Sena made inroads into Marathwada two decades ago when the state witnessed a bout of caste polarisation and violence in a big way over the renaming of the Marathwada University after Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar. The party opposed the renaming, and won support from the upper castes here, including the Marathas.
In the last elections, however, the Sena, which had hoped to double its tally of 9 out of 46 seats in Marathwada, could manage to win only 11 seats. The BJP swept the polls, bagging 15 seats. Traditionally, the region has been a Congress stronghold.
“We cannot afford to take the region lightly,” admitted a Sena leader. “This incident (of protests over the cartoon) can damage the work we have been doing in the backdrop of the drought and agrarian crisis to spread our base in rural areas.”
The Saamna cartoon got leaders from across political parties censuring the Sena for hurting Maratha sentiments. Some even went as far as calling the Sena an anti-Maratha party.
On Tuesday, stones were hurled at a Saamna printing press in Sanpada, Navi Mumbai. A few protesters threw ink on the publication’s Thane office. On Monday, copies of the publication were burnt across the state and a section of Marathas protested outside the cartoonist’s home in suburban Vile Parle.