Mumbai: The Azaan-Hanuman Chalisa episode - Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray’s ultimatum for the removal of loudspeakers from mosques and the call by MLA Ravi Rana and his wife, BJP MP Navneet Rana, to recite Hanuman Chalisa outside Matoshree - seems to have fired up Shiv Sena activists, who have now gone on the offensive and are putting up a show of strength against their erstwhile ally BJP in the run-up to the BMC elections.
It also helped to revive the connection between the shakha-level Shiv Sainik and the party president and chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, as the latter came all the way to meet his Sainiks who were gathered outside Matoshree to thwart Ranas’ attempt to carry out their promise.
Further, the Shiv Sena stole the opportunity to iterate that the party was geared to take on the BJP over Hindutva, notwithstanding its adherence to secularism to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the common minimum programme.
On its part, the BJP is happy that the Shiv Sena has fallen into its Hindutva trap and is now optimistic about consolidating voters from Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra on the politically crucial issue. BJP insiders claim that Shiv Sena is now left with no option but to toe the Hindutva line, as the party may not be able to cash in on its ‘Marathi Manoos’ plank. Moreover, the BJP is pleased that Raj Thackeray’s renewed love for Hindutva will prove politically beneficial, as it believes that in war and politics, the enemy’s enemy is a friend.
However, the Shiv Sena has also indicated that it is not deterred by actions of the Central probe agencies against its leaders and allies and has not abandoned its fighting spirit. The prayer controversy has put it on the alert to further step up efforts to strengthen its shakha-level network and increase rapport with the voters, especially when the BJP has fielded ward-level ombudsmen to sniff out corruption and malpractices during the Shiv Sena rule in the BMC.
For the BJP, Hindutva will once again come handy to polarise voters and lure them by exposing how the Shiv Sena has gone soft on Hindutva.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sainiks’ move to hit the streets and target the BJP has revived the chorus of the imposition of President’s rule from opposition leaders. The ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi partners have ridiculed the BJP’s demand.
However, the Shiv Sena will have to tread cautiously, steering clear of confrontation that could lead to serious law-and-order issues. The onus is on Shiv Sena president and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to exhort party members to refrain from violence and engage with the BJP using precision planning and combative strategy. At the same time, his government will also have to focus on governance and the implementation of development projects impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.