Muslim voting rights controversy: Shiv Sena trying to divide and rule

Having avoided referring much to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) ahead of the crucial Bandra East bypoll, seemingly to avoid giving it importance, Sena seems to have taken the gloves off a day after the polling, with a scathing editorial in mouthpiece Saamana, which refers to voting rights of Muslims.

Sanjay Raut
Sanjay Raut

The editorial, which has already stoked a controversy, seems designed to divide the electorate and send a strong message ahead of the civic polls in Aurangabad, Navi Mumbai and Kalyan-Dombivli.

The message, Sena insiders suggest, is aimed both at AIMIM which may prove to be a big threat in Aurangabad, where it already won the Assembly election as well as for Sainiks, to boost their morale and prove to them that the party is not going soft on the AIMIM and can and will give them a reply in “Sena style”.

Saamana’s two-page article, penned by senior leader Sanjay Raut, yesterday, quoted Bal Thackeray: “If vote bank politics has to be stopped, then voting rights of Muslims should be taken away.”

The piece comes against the backdrop of AIMIM chief Akbaruddin Owaisi daring Uddhav Thackeray in the Sena backyard of Bandra East to visit Hyderabad, calling him a “tiger who only roamed on home pitch.” To this, Uddhav had only said, “Does Hyderabad belong to Owaisi’s father?”

The Sena chief’s reply was seen as going soft on someone who had taken potshots at them in their stronghold. Shiv Sainiks were shocked how the party had not put out any response, except for Uddhav’s statement, and how ‘un-Sena’ the situation was. Yesterday’s article in Saamana finally gave the Sainiks the ‘strong’ response they had been seeking from their party.

Eye on future
As per Sena leaders, Uddhav’s reply during the campaign was because he didn’t want to be seen giving too much importance to AIMIM though Sena leaders had gone on record to say that Bandra (East) was a fight between Sena and AIMIM, discounting the presence of Congress veteran Narayan Rane.

A senior leader, when asked why the party was silent over Owaisi’s barbs, said, “We are waiting for aadesh from Matoshree.” But the orders never came and the polls were done. Sena now appears to be aiming for the civic polls and Owaisi’s invective seems to have done deep damage, which was taking a toll on its grassroots workers.

Hence, the Saamana article. The article not only invokes Muslims’ voting rights, but has also chronicled anti-Hindu remarks made by Owaisi in the past. This serves a dual purpose: while the party maintains its “fierce” image, Uddhav, who is seen as a more moderate leader, keeps his own image intact. The shots have been fired; but the gun is not the same.

Two sides, same coin?
Reading the article closely, it is obvious that the Shiv Sena is trying to create a divide to consolidate votes in the future. A party that came to power in the state piggybacking on hateful editorials during the 1992 riots has questioned why the Muslim community needs extreme leaders.

Both AIMIM and the Sena are parties of extremes. Both rely on raising war cries among their workers and supporters to get them to polling booths. While AIMIM has attacked Modi and Hindus, Sena has launched barbs against Muslims, even going to the extent of referring to them as chamchas of Pakistan.

One shall continue to hear such comments till the municipal elections are concluded. And, should mid-term polls happen in the state, such diatribes will be available aplenty for public consumption even though all comments may remain ultra vires of the Constitution of our secular country.

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