On Bal Thackeray's birth anniversary, Raj Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray vie for his stripes
Minutes after Raj Thackeray offers support to the Centre's contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Uddhav brandishes Hindu credentials despite being in uneasy coalition
On the 94th birth anniversary of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, his son Uddhav and nephew Raj competed with each other to reclaim the saffron title. At the MNS convention on Thursday, extending support to CAA and NRC, Raj declared that his hard-core Hindutva DNA hasn't undergone a change. Uddhav, who broke alliance with the BJP to join hands with secular parties, Congress and NCP, last year, said saffron still remained an integral part of his party.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj, who has seen many ups and downs in the past 14 years of his party's existence, played yet another gamble to be relevant in the state politics by supporting the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). This has given the BJP a much-needed boost as well as a much-feared sense of dividing Hindu votes that would largely go the Sena and BJP combine. As far as Mumbai in particular and Maharashtra in general are concerned, the BJP has found a voice in Raj that should be louder than its well-oiled machinery.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray at Bandra East. Pic/Rane Ashish
"I'm Marathi as well as Hindu. If you harm Marathi I will attack you as a Marathi. And if you harm Hindus, I will retaliate as a Hindu," Raj warned, underlining the son-of-the-soil and a hardcore Hindu agendas that the MNS and Sena loyalists haven't heard of ever since Sena founder Bal Thackeray's heydays.
Raj takes potshots at Uddhav
"I don't change my colour to be part of the government," he said in a snide remark against his estranged cousin and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, indicating that the Sena may have more worries on its platter as it has been accused of deviating from its Hindu agenda recently. Raj said he will speak in detail about the state politics at Shivaji Park on the occasion of Marathi New Year, on March 25.
Raj Thackeray inaugurates his party's new flag in Goregaon. Pic/Satej Shinde
Even Shiv Sena left no stone unturned to match the MNS in saffronising Uddhav Thackeray's felicitation that coincided with his late father's birth anniversary. Uddhav invoked his father and started the speech by addressing the Hindus. He recalled the BJP's broken promise of making the Sena's CM.
'I don't fear fights'
"The saffron is internal part us. We haven't abandoned it," he said, a couple of hours after his cousin had made a similar statement. He attributed Sena's growth in adverse circumstances to the sainiks. "I don't fear fights. Not just outsiders but the family also attacked us," he said, without mentioning the cousin who broke away from the Sena 14 summers ago.
Raj's clarion call for driving illegal migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh out and a decision to take out a morcha to support the Centre on February 9 should serve as a warning to the Sena, which hasn't clearly come out in the open over CAA and NRC because of the compulsion of the coalition. Although it has told a Muslim delegation that a resolution to stall the Centre's law was not needed because the state wouldn't implement the provisions. So, don't be surprised if MNS's 'support' march that Raj said would be in 'retaliation' to anti-CAA/NRC protests in which "Muslims from outside the country were participating", gets a traction more than the BJP's campaigns so far. The BJP was restricted from taking out a march to Azad Maidan but knowing the MNS's expertise in mass movements, we should also expect more trouble on the Mumbai streets.
'Ban loudspeakers in masjids'
While Raj bashed the "migrants", he wooed the Muslims who swear loyalty to the country. He said he has always considered the Muslims who were loyal to the country as his own. "Can you reject (ex-president) late A P J Abdul Kalam, (cricketer) Zaheer Khan and (writer) Javed Akhtar? But whoever comes here to create troubles for the country will not be spared," he said, demanding that the loud speakers in the masjid must be banned. "Keep religion inside your homes. While our prarthna doesn't trouble, why does namaz bother others?" he asked.
Not all in Sena happy
Raj said the launching of MNS's new saffron flag was a mere coincidence, but people close to him say the decision was taken with an intention to fill a void that the Sena has created by being party to the politics that the ground-level Sena loyalists don't approve of.
Not all in the Sena are happy with the new arrangement in the Mantralaya and predict more trouble for the party if it continues with a compromise formula in which the Congress and NCP dictate terms. It is also said that the BJP and MNS are together in this and inching closer to have an alternative in place if Sena doesn't fall in line. Raj's track record, which is remembered more for uncertainty and flip flops than an invariable position, should decide the shape of the new alliance, if any. The BJP has already said there would be no problems for like-minded parties to join hands.
Raj has also departed from a conventional social engineering that reflected in the party's previous flag. He blamed it on his advisers who were with him when MNS was founded. "They said have blue, have green and also have saffron because it conveyed our inclusiveness. I was young then, but argued that even having different colours, Shivrai (Shivaji Maharaj) could establish an all-inclusive rule in his times," he said.
Call it Raj's misfortune or flawed politics, the MNS makeover has also been linked to the fortunes of other parties instead of its growth prospects that have eluded it since the first Assembly and some local body elections in which it had showed a great promise.
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