As the proverb goes, ‘All is fair in love and war’ and this is exactly what has happened in Maharashtra’s politics. Nobody could have visualised this brand new equation before October 21, 2019, but the unexpected took place in Maharashtra after a slew of dramatic meetings and fallouts.
After intense deliberation, a new alliance, the Maha Vikas Aghadi, took birth and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as the state’s new chief minister; the Congress and NCP were not just actively supporting but confirming their pro-active involvement in the new scheme of things.
This government passed the floor test on November 30, 2019, with a thumping majority. Now, Thackeray is expected to put into action his own agenda of Maharashtra’s development without any hindrance. Still, a multitude of questions continue bothering the people of Maharashtra, especially the minority community, one of them being: What will Uddhav do with Muslims? Because for the last 30 years, the Shiv Sena has been projecting itself as the harbinger of Hindu majoritarianism in the state. Some of its favourite issues have been the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, Article 370 and Vande Mataram.
After taking charge as CM, when Thackeray held his first press conference, reporters asked him about secularism. Instead of answering the question, Uddhav counter-questioned the reporter, asking what his opinion was! Now it’s pretty clear, this issue may be that ‘perennial bone stuck in the throat’. Once upon a time in Maharashtra, the Congress gave the CM post to the late Abdul Rahman Antulay, but right now, we do not have a single Muslim face in the current cabinet. Minorities, Muslims in particular, faced more alienation during the BJP-Sena regime. From beef to job reservation, minorities felt victimised in a way they never had before. Perhaps the Congress leader, the late Syed Ahmed, who was a minister in the Maharashtra cabinet had rightly articulated that Muslims in the Konkan area are more prosperous compared to those in Marathwada and other parts of the state. Perhaps, their population is lower than in these areas.
Ahmed unequivocally credited the Maratha regime for their prosperity. Before 1948, Marathwada was governed by the Nizams but the Muslims here are not as well off as they are in the Konkan region. So, it is evident, a certain type of secularism was already at work in the Konkan well before Independence. Muslims constitute nearly 12% of the state’s population. There wasn’t a single Muslim in the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet. This time, the Shiv Sena gave two tickets to Muslims candidates in the assembly elections, one of whom, Abdul Sattar, won from Sillod, the Aurangabad assembly seat. Anticipating the threat of being conveniently sidelined yet again, the Muslim organisation wrote a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, with nearly 100 signatures, urging her not to support the Sena in Maharashtra. Some other Muslim bodies also raised the same concern.
Coming to reservation – the 5% quota in jobs and educational institutes announced by the Congress-NCP regime was scrapped by the Bombay High Court, but Thackeray has taken a new stand on the issue, asserting there must be reservation for Muslims. Now, this will be a challenge for his government. Then comes the NRC- the National Register of Citizens, which has already been implemented in Assam and the Centre keeps reiterating its commitment to apply NRC in other parts of the country as well. Even though this will not directly affect the Muslims in the state, ideological skirmishes are bound to cause tension. How Thackeray will handle this is to be seen.
So, will the Shiv Sena tone down its Hindutva? Let’s not forget that before the assembly elections, Thackeray had raked up the Ramjanmbhoomi-Babri Majid issue and travelled with his supporters to Ayodhya. Throughout his life, Thackeray’s father and Sena founder Bal Thackeray had proudly claimed he and his Sena were squarely responsible for demolishing the Babri mosque. The ghost of the Srikrishna Commission will also haunt this alliance, because many Sena leaders and the party mouthpiece Saamna were held responsible for taking the law into their own hands.
But now, it looks like many equations are fast-changing, with time being the quintessential healer of wounds. In the last Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election, the Shiv Sena gave five tickets to its Muslim workers. Two of them won from the Muslim-dominated areas that were worst-affected during the 1992-93 riots. In 2003, when Sushil Kumar Shinde took oath as the CM of Maharashtra, suddenly there were attacks on Dalits and this continued for a few weeks. Such a possibility cannot be ruled out at this time. The government should remain alert on this front as it is likely some controversial issues may be reignited by opponents.
There are a few good gestures that stood out during the Shiv Sena’s 1994-1999 rule. Bal Thackeray gave permission for Muslims’ ijtema in Bandra East, in which nearly 15 lakh people participated. The Sena government also took the crucial decision to increase FSI for mosques. Not a single incident of communal violence took place during this regime. Now, once again there is a new government - albeit with changes. It can be hoped they shall adhere to the doctrine of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and rule with equanimity.
(The writer is a senior journalist, Press9 News)