Shiv Sena’s mellowing on PM Modi: Thaw in relations a new twist

Mumbai: It’s a new dimension in state politics to watch out for. When NCP and Congress do not spare a single opportunity to corner BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi – be it over corona pandemic, vaccine availability or the catastrophic spell of cyclone Tauktae, Shiv Sena’s approach towards him appears somehow unexpected and curious to watch out.

If developments in the last few days are summed up, Sena has carefully avoided personal attack on Modi, be it over the issue of supply of vaccine or priority given to Gujarat in cyclone Tauktae. Neither Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray nor Saamana, the party mouthpiece, has passed any acerbic remarks on PM’s tour of Gujarat or blaming him over the Centre’s role in the state’s fight in pandemic situation.

Even when some newspapers took the freedom to comment on the PM's emotional address for the medical fraternity from Varanasi, Saamana refrained from making any comments. More so, the newspaper carried a piece on Modi penned by state BJP’s chief spokesman Keshav Upadhye on its edit page which asks how Modi alone can be blamed for the second wave. This is the first occasion when an article in favour of Modi, by a BJP person appeared in Saamana.

Interestingly, it appears reciprocal as PM too has avoided embarrassing the Sena. It was apparent when he had a telephonic talk with CM Thackeray to discuss the state's efforts on pandemic. Soon after the conversation, the CM’s office issued a release saying the PM praised the state efforts to deal with the situation. This was challenged by BJP in general and leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis in particular. But neither PM nor the PMO sought to clear the air and refrained from issuing any press release about it.

Recently, Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who is known for his sharp comments, appeared very honeyed while reacting to PM’s Gujarat tour. He said, “Damages in Maharashtra are very high. We are sure that the Centre will provide assistance. Rs 1,000 cr aid announced for Gujarat. But no reason to feel bad about it. Modi ji is a big-hearted person, will offer Rs 1,500 cr to us”.

CM Thackeray in his tour of two districts in Konkan belt on Friday avoided any caustic remarks and said, “PM is sensitive and he will certainly help us out and I’m sure about it”.

The tone of Saamana editorial on May 21 can be taken as another example as a change of heart. The selection of words appeared too careful, particularly when the PM’s Gujarat tour came in for sharp criticism by Sena’s alliance partners – NCP and Congress. Political leaders from Maharashtra have criticised Modi’s tour, says the edit without naming any party or leader. Later it specifically said, “NCP and Congress have been asking if Modi is PM of Gujarat”. Wherever it speaks about the PM’s role, the criticism is attributed to NCP and Congress.

A notable episode is the PM's interaction with district collectors, where chief ministers were also present. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee reacted angrily for not allowing any CM to speak, but Thackeray did not react.

According to political analyst Prof Surendra Jondhale, Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government comprises three political parties and CM cannot afford to antagonize PM Modi at this juncture. He would rather avoid a confrontationist approach to avoid any trouble. Alliance governments are easy to dislodge and Thackeray may not want to take any blame when his partners in government are from different ideologies, Jondhale said.

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