MNS Aurangabad rally: Prakash Ambedkar questions party’s lack of stand, asks, ‘Where is Congress?’
To Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) president Prakash Ambedkar, it is apparent that the BJP is using the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to weaken the Shiv Sena. But, what he does not get is why the Congress is not asserting itself even as controversy rages in the state over the MNS’s demand to remove loudspeakers from mosques.
“The Congress should have come forward and put its foot down on the matter of the MNS rally,” Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar, told The Indian Express on Sunday ahead of MNS leader Raj Thackeray’s public meeting in Aurangabad on the matter. “Unfortunately, the Congress seems to be allowing its alliance partners NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) and Shiv Sena to make all the decisions. Had the Congress taken a hard stance against the MNS, it would have conveyed a strong message across Maharashtra and the country.”
The VBA leader added, “In a progressive state like Maharashtra, the role of the Congress, which pledges its commitment to secularism and the Constitution, is questionable when it comes to taking a stand against Hindutva.”
The veteran leader had words of caution for the BJP. “The BJP has launched a proxy war on Shiv Sena by using the MNS through Hindutva agenda in Maharashtra. The MNS has nothing to lose as it is it gets the centre stage. And sooner or later, when it succeeds to get on firm ground, it can dictate terms.”
The BJP perceives its former ally as its staunch enemy and is determined to “fight the Sena to the finish, by hook or by crook”, Ambedkar said, adding, “And the MNS is their master card. It is like you want to unleash one monster to finish another. But in doing so you often forget that the monster that you have created is one day going to turn on you.”
The MNS chief first raised the demand to remove loudspeakers from mosques on April 2 at a rally in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park. Over a week later, he threatened to launch a statewide agitation if the government failed to meet the demand by May 3. On April 23, independent MP Navneet Rana and her husband and independent state legislator Ravi Rana were arrested from their Mumbai residence as Sena workers began protesting against their decision to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s “Matoshree” residence. The move was said to be aimed at building pressure on the state government on the loudspeaker issue.
Uneasy about the MNS taking the lead in a matter that had been his party’s central agenda till recently, Uddhav Thackeray assured the Sena cadre and defined the Shiv Sena’s brand of Hindutva as one of nationalism and not communalism. But the MNS has pushed on with the issue and Raj Thackeray’s Aurangabad rally carries the crucial symbolism of being held at the same venue that his uncle and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had used over three decades ago to play his hardline Hindutva card. The 1988 rally helped the Sena spread its Hindutva politics beyond Mumbai.
‘Loudspeaker issue an attempt to trigger unrest’
Ambedkar said he had urged both Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil and the police commissioner of Aurangabad not to permit the MNS rally, saying it would heighten communal tension in the state. “My objection is neither to the MNS nor the public rally,” the VBA leader added. “The question is about timing and the issue. Muslims are observing fast during Ramzan, why take up the old issue of loudspeakers at mosques at this point?”
Ambedkar alleged that the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were pushing their ” hidden agenda of hatred against Muslims through smaller parties and individuals, using Hindutva as a pretext”.
He added, “When you promote such a sensitive and controversial agenda, its objective is to polarise the society. It is evident that right-wing parties want to divide people and trigger unrest in Maharashtra. From what has emerged there is an attempt by these parties to depict Muslims as culprits. Loudspeakers are not restricted to mosques. They are liberally used at all places of worship, including temples. Why is the BJP not demanding a ban on loudspeakers at temples?”