Why Thackeray’s stand on Hindutva won’t be a problem

Feb 25, 2020 12:45 AM IST

Just when it looked like the moment that would mark the beginning of trouble in the MVA government, Thackeray seemed to have taken a step back following consultations with NCP chief Sharad Pawar

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s visit to New Delhi last week led to some anxiety in the ruling three-party coalition in the state as the CM endorsed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and spoke in favour of the National Population Register (NPR) as he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.

This, in turn, led to Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari commenting that Thackeray needed to understand the connection between NPR and National Register of Citizens (NRC). “CM Maharashtra @UddhavThackarey requires a briefing on Citizenship Amendment Rules -2003 to understand how NPR is basis of NRC. Once you do NPR you cannot stop NRC. On CAA-needs to be reacquainted with design of Indian Constitution that religion cannot be basis of Citizenship (sic),” he tweeted.

Just when it looked like the moment that would mark the beginning of trouble in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state, Thackeray seemed to have taken a step back following closed door consultations with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, the architect of the MVA government in the state. He announced that a committee of three parties would be appointed to study the NPR before taking any further steps. On Monday — the first day of the crucial budget session of state legislature, as he addressed legislators of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, Thackeray made it a point to tell them that the contentious issues would not derail the government. MVA would complete its five-year tenure, he promised them and asked them to counter the Opposition BJP’s attack on their government.

Still as the session began in Vidhan Bhavan, there were murmurs within the ruling coalition, especially in the NCP-Congress camp, on whether Thackeray’s reluctance to give up his Hindutva leaning stance would jeopardise the future of the MVA government.

However, top leaders of all the three parties are of the opinion that there is no immediate threat to the government, notwithstanding the discontent between the partners. According to them, there are two prominent reasons for the same: First, the NCP and Congress want to keep the BJP out of power in Maharashtra. The previous Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government wanted to end Pawar’s influence on the state’s politics which prompted the Maratha strongman to take the lead attack against the BJP in Assembly elections. Pawar’s campaign was a major reason why the two parties won more seats than what they had in 2014 and denied the BJP a chance to win majority on its own.

For Congress, preventing the BJP from forming a government in a crucial state like Maharashtra is politically important, as is its being part of the ruling combination here. While it was very difficult for the party to extend support to an aggressively right-wing party like the Sena, the Congress would now be patient with its new ally. While Thackeray agreeing to dilute his stand on contentious issues could help Congress stick to its decision, the fact that majority of its MLAs in the state are not willing to stay out of power, would also compel the party to be patient with the Sena.

Second, the two parties do not have much of a problem if they are seen sympathetic towards Sena’s Hindutva. A significant section of local Congress leaders, as well as the NCP top brass, is of the opinion that such an alliance will help them counter the BJP’s attempt to paint the Congress and NCP as parties that only speaks for Muslims.

“An image of Uddhav Thackeray standing next to Soniaji, or the chief minister of the three-party coalition performing an aarti at Ayodhya would send a message to our voters that we are not anti-Hindus, as our rival party would like them to believe,” said a key Congress leader. He also pointed out how the Aam Aadmi Party was benefitted by its ‘soft Hindutva’ experiment in Delhi Assembly polls. This is the reason that the party did not oppose the Supreme Court’s verdict on Ram temple in Ayodhya, or why former Congress president Rahul Gandhi visited temples during Assembly campaign in Gujarat and other states, he pointed out.

In fact, when the Sena announced Uddhav Thackeray’s plan to visit Ayodhya, the state Congress was quick to react that it had no problem with the move since it was in favour of building Ram temple in Ayodhya.

State leaders from both the parties think they have to counter the BJP’s plan to polarise voters on religious lines. If that works, the BJP would be forced to reply to the questions on the state of economy and unemployment which would be a difficult task, they feel.


    Shailesh Gaikwad is senior associate editor, Hindustan Times. He heads the political bureau in HT’s Mumbai edition. In his career of over 18 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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