Draped in a saffron shawl, Bal Thackeray is purportedly saying in the short clip, “When our government comes to power we will ban loudspeakers on mosques and stop namaaz on roads as it causes inconvenience to common public.”
The Sena founder’s stance on such issues had never been a secret as he had often voiced them openly in public. The question is, why is Raj invoking him now?
After parting with the Sena following differences with cousin Uddhav Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s son and the Maharashtra Chief Minister,
Raj formed his own outfit MNS in 2006. His move was then variously described as “daring” as well as “reckless”, with not many believing that he could resort to such a bid during Senior Thackeray’s life time.
Two months after Bal Thackeray’s demise, Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray took over as the Sena president in January 2013, During his party meeting then, Uddhav asserted that epithets like “supremo” and “Hindu Hriday Samrat” will always be associated with his father.
With the MNS struggling in its attempts to establish itself in Maharashtra politics even 16 years after its inception, failing to make any significant mark electorally, Raj has been looking for ways and means through which his party could gain political mileage and its prospects be boosted.
Early last month, raking up the use of loudspeakers at mosques during azaan, the MNS chief gave an ultimatum to the Uddhav-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to remove loudspeakers from places of worship, especially mosques, in the state before May 3, warning that otherwise the MNS activists will take to the streets and chant Hanuman Chalisa outside mosques.
Raj has claimed that “this is not a religious issue but a social problem which affects everyone regardless of caste, community and religion,” even as his decision to unleash the MNS workers for the Hanuman Chalisa campaign is clearly aimed at turning it into a political issue.
In this move, Raj has also turned up the heat on the MVA coalition government, comprising of the Sena, Congress and NCP, putting it on the back foot, with the latter putting the ball to the-ruled Centre’s court while asking it to bring a law on the issue in light of the Supreme Court’s 2005 guidelines.
In the backdrop of the snowballing loudspeaker row, Raj’s move to release Bal Thackeray’s old clip is a clear bid to stake claim over the latter’s Hindutva legacy while projecting Uddhav-led Sena as a “travesty” of the original Sena.
Likening the MNS with Bal Thackeray-founded party, MNS leader Bal Nandgaonkar claimed, “Raj Thackeray has never uttered a word against any community or religion, and has only talked on issues which have become social problems.”
Through this clip, said another MNS leader, “MNS wants to showthe mirror. It wants to show how Shiv Sena has changed over the years. Bal Thackeray’s Sena was founded on hard Hidutva. But Uddhav’s Sena has given up Hindutva for power.”
Seeking to corner the MVA dispensation, the principal Opposition BJP, the Sena’s erstwhile alliance partner, has also seized on the issue, backing Raj and highlighting Bal Thackeray’s Hindutva legacy while going after Udhhav.
Senior BP leader and Leader of Opposition, Devendra Fadnavis, charged, “Shiv Sena has filed sedition charges against Independent MLAand MP for threatening to chant Hanuman Chalisa in front of ‘Matoshree’. This would not have happened during Bal Thackeray’s time.”
Early last year, when the state Congress organ, Shidori, in an article called Vinayak Damodar Savarkar a “mercy seeker and not a freedom fighter”, the BJP had also invoked Bal Thackeray to hit out at the party, saying that the Sena founder would not have tolerated anyone insulting Savarkar.
Fadnavis had then said, “In 2004 when (then minister) Mani Shankar Aiyar removed the plaque containing Savarkar’s quotes from Cellular Jail in Andamans and Nicobar, Shiv Sena had launched a ‘Jode Mara ( hit with footwear)’ agitation. The agitation was lead by Bal Thackeray who hit Aiyar’s effigy with a footwear.”
Over the last two-and-a-half years since it was outsmarted by the Sena – which joined hands with arch rivals, the Congress and the NCP, to form the MVA government – there have been several instances when the BJP has targeted the Sena over various Hindutva issues.
At the BJP’s rally held at Mumbai’s Somaiya ground on May 1, Maharashtra Day, Fadnavis, while slamming the Sena, asked, “How could Hanuman Chalisa be a threat to Sena and Matoshree. Will its chanting destroy Ram Rajya or Ravan Rajya? The answer is obvious: Hanuman Chalisa will drive away evil. It protects good. So why should they (Sena) fear Hanuman Chalisa.”
The saffron party has also trained its guns on the Sena frequently over the Ram Temple issue, charging that unlike Uddhav, Bal Thackeray, for the sake of power, would never have “compromised” with parties like the Congress and the NCP, which, it alleged, had been opposed to the Ayodhya campaign.
On its part, the Sena has dismissed the Bal Thackeray barbs flung by the MNS and the BJP at the party, terming it as “their motivated bids to target Udhav”. Sena MP Sanjay Raut asserted that “We don’t have to learn Hindutva from BJP and MNS. They should mind their own business.”