It will be interesting to see how the Shiv Sena escapes yet another trap the BJP has laid ahead of the Mumbai civic elections
State Cabinet minister Nawab Malik at ED office in Ballard Estate, last week. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) minister Nawab Malik’s arrest has taken the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party conflict on expected lines as the BJP is playing the Hindutva card loud and clear, challenging CM Uddhav Thackeray to not defend a minority leader, who is alleged to have links with Dawood Ibrahim, a fugitive don and mastermind of Mumbai’s serial bomb blasts of 1993, after which the Sena became a force to reckon with in the state and came to power in alliance with the BJP in 1995. The BJP has tried to put the Sena in a fix by invoking the CM’s late father and Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, a fierce Dawood critic. Thackeray senior had side-tracked the Sena’s Marathi Manoos agenda and embraced a new political line to become the champion of Hindutva.
In the wake of Malik’s arrest, the BJP has reiterated, very aggressively, a charge against Uddhav that he has completely departed from the Hindutva that was his father’s hallmark. It says Malik is fit for removal from the Cabinet, whereas the MVA thinks otherwise. Malik will not resign until the ‘politically motivated’ charges against him are proved, the MVA has said. Uddhav Thackeray’s recent outburst made clear that as far as the law enforcement actions against the MVA colleagues and their associates are concerned, there is no way out but to fight legally as well as in the democratic manner of electioneering. He seems to have challenged the BJP to bring it on—the BJP’s plank of the Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the civic election of Mumbai, where one in every four people is a Muslim. The Sena has been extending an olive branch to the minorities, particularly Muslims, who split their loyalty between the Congress, which has maximum MLAs from the community, followed by the NCP and Samajwadi Party in the 2019 elections. The AIMIM lost a seat to the Sena. NCP city president Malik is one of the Muslim MLAs who has returned to the house repeatedly.
It is quite clear that the two MVA ministers, Sanjay Rathod and Anil Deshmukh, were asked to resign by their respective party heads. Sena’s Rathod’s tenure was curtailed by allegations of abetment to suicide case, while NCP’s Deshmukh quit after the high court ordered a CBI probe in the graft charges levelled against him by Mumbai’s ex-CP Param Bir Singh. The Enforcement Directorate arrested Deshmukh much later. Both former ministers didn’t carry much political weight, but in Malik’s case, the stakes are high, because he is among the few who stirred up a hornet’s nest in the past 27 months. He took the battle straight into the former CM Devendra Fadnavis’s doors, earning praises from the anti-BJP lot. His popularity among the Muslim community soared, making contenders in his own party and others insecure.
Other than Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Malik has been doing most of the talking on behalf of the MVA government and his party. He held a record number of press conferences against Sameer Wankhede, a Central agency officer. His party boss found an example to follow in West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee’s ministers, including a heavyweight, were arrested in an alleged scam by the CBI, but they were not sacked by the CM. Instead, Banerjee chose to confront the Centre and its agencies. The MVA plans to do the same, but it remains to be seen whether it goes to the extent Banerjee has gone. Banerjee is in absolute power in West Bengal. The MVA has a divided leadership. The BJP is well aware of the fractures in the MVA and attempts to dent even deeper when an opportunity comes on a platter or crafted by its always-in-the-election-mode leadership.
UP or down?
It is understood that the results of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election will impact national politics in a great deal. The BJP proved the Opposition’s projections wrong in the previous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the country’s biggest state. The Opposition relies heavily on the outcome, a possibility of a fractured mandate that gives a non-BJP alliance, in UP. The Opposition (read MVA) in Maharashtra feels that BJP’s win in UP will invite more trouble for them from the Centre which will further sharpen its attack on their government.
The power corridors are also abuzz with a possibility of intensifying very aggressively the anti-BJP campaign if the Yogi government goes out. Political murmurs say that there will be a time for the MVA to choose between the state-Centre tussle while trying to go as long as possible and face mid-term polls by dissolving the government on its own, in anticipation that it has created anti-BJP sentiment for winning the mandate, together or independent of each other. The three parties can join hands post-poll like they did in the winter of 2019. But for sensing that ‘expected sentiment’, the MVA will have to wait for the mandate the public offers in a large scale local body polls that are scheduled to be held this year.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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