With Shiv Sena turning liberal, India goes topsy-turvy
When former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah wryly tweeted, “You know the world has turned upside down when the Shiv Sena starts sounding reasonable,” he hit the nail on the head.
The tweet was in response to Uddhav Thackeray’s statement a day earlier cautioning people not to adhere to the idea of Hindutva being perpetrated in the country. Uddhav went on to say that women were unsafe in the country while everybody was trying to protect the cow and that you could not target people on their eating preferences.
When I first saw that statement, I too was struck by how far the Shiv Sena had come since the days when its brand of Hindutva was considered too extreme by even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). That was in the mid-1980s, when Bal Thackeray and his close supporter Dr Ramesh Prabhoo became the first Indians to be disenfranchised by the Election Commission of India for inciting communal passions to win a by-election in Mumbai. It’s only a few years after that that the BJP, which took some time to transition from Gandhian socialism to Hindutva, sought an alliance with the Shiv Sena, which has proved its biggest and most enduring ally despite its on-again-off-again kind of relationship.
In his report on the Mumbai riots, Justice Srikrishna squarely blames both LK Advani and Thackeray in equal measure for contributing to communal conflict in the city. Advani’s rath yatra incited passions, the demolition of the Babri Masjid added to the unrest. “And into this boiling cauldron, like a general leading his troops, stepped in Bal Thackeray...” said Justice Srikrishna in one of the most evocative lines of any judicial report.
It did scare Bal Thackeray and soon he began to change his mind about the advantages of Hindutva. After his party won the 1995 assembly elections on substantial Muslim support, he called for a secular monument like a school or a hospital on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid, angering the Sangh Parivar no end. He could also have brought in the anti-cow slaughter bill two decades before it was signed by the President. But he had it put into cold storage after a delegation of butchers met him at Matoshree and explained to him that they never slaughtered the female of the species, in accordance with the existing laws in the country. The BJP accepted much of all that without much protest.
But now when Uddhav cautions Indians not to follow the brand of Hindutva being perpetrated by the BJP and that you cannot attack people on their food preferences, you know much has changed in the relationship between the two allies and, if the BJP wishes to continue the alliance, it will have to work very hard on it.
I do not take BJP president Amit Shah’s exhortation to his party workers that they will go it alone during 2019 very seriously. That statement was made out of pique, in a tit for tat, after the Shiv Sena walked out of the Lok Sabha during the no-confidence motion and rubbed salt on BJP’s wounds by pouring fulsome praise on Congress president Rahul Gandhi. That, too, after Uddhav was the first person Shah met when he started his ‘Sampark for Samarthan’ campaign, thus placing him on the highest pedestal possible. But the BJP needs the Sena now more than ever before and I also think it unlikely that the Shiv Sena will resist the alliance for too long in the weeks leading up to the Lok Sabha polls. What price it will extract from the BJP remains to be seen.
For the Sena is continuing to hedge its bets instead of a clean break as is evidenced by its walk-out in the Parliament. The motion was brought in by a former BJP ally, the Telegu Desam Party, whose leader Chandrababu Naidu has been in constant touch with Uddhav Thackeray. Yet, instead of taking as bold a decision as to vote for the motion, the Sena chose to leave a window open for a future reconciliation.
Be that as it may, Uddhav is bang-on about another thing – women are more unsafe now in this country than cows. He may have been referring to rapes et al but cows are definitely more privileged than women now. Why else would the government ban oxytocin, a lifesaving hormonal drug that prevents bleeding in women in labour just because it is misused by some dairy farmers?
The nation is truly going to the cows. And Abdullah is right — India has turned topsy-turvy in the process!