Shiv Sena, secularists and politics of regionalism
India’s ruling Congress party and main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have found themselves on a common platform after Gandhi family scion Rahul Gandhi slammed the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) for their tirade against ‘outsiders’ – mainly north Indians – in Maharashtra.
Earlier, BJP president Nitin Gadkari invoked the constitutional right of every Indian to live anywhere, in a snub to erstwhile political ally Shiv Sena, whose agenda is to promote the interest of Marathis, sometimes with violent effect at the cost of non-Marathis, especially those living in Mumbai.
Waving the politics of regionalism is nothing new for the Sena and its breakaway faction MNS, who derive their political base from the ‘sons of the soil’ ideology.
And so far, they have mostly gotten away without being prosecuted for their agitations ranging from destroying public property to beating up non-natives in the streets of cosmopolitan Mumbai.
The state’s ruling Congress-NCP government has also been accused in the past of allowing MNS to have a free run in Mumbai because of political expediency – as a counter to the Shiv Sena.
So why are the country’s two biggest parties now coming out with a common voice against the Sena and MNS? Is it a confluence of ideology despite differences for the cause of the country’s secular credentials? Or, after so many years of silence, is it just rhetoric with every party eyeing their respective constituencies.
The BJP’s cold-shouldering of the Sena, its oldest political ally, is seen by some as the outcome of political calculations under new leader Gadkari rather than a change of ideology, as it feels the regional party’s agenda is not in tune with the BJP’s pan-Indian aspirations.
Rahul Gandhi decided to take on the Shiv Sena during his tour of Bihar, whose people have fallen victims to the agitations of the Sena, ahead of assembly elections later this year.
Meanwhile, Sena chief Bal Thackeray continues to be defiant and his party is now training its guns on Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan for saying he wants Pakistani cricketers to play in India’s domestic T20 league.
But despite cynicism, the civil society and media have welcomed the growing voices against the Sena and the MNS.
Will this signal a change in the fight against exclusivist politics? Or, will it be back to the usual politics after all the rhetoric dies down?