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No more compromises: Shiv Sena
Vijay Singh in Aurangabad | July 15, 2004 12:58 IST
The Shiv Sena has had enough of compromises. The militant Hindu party has decided that the only thing likely to work for it in the crucial assembly election in Maharashtra, due in September-October this year, is a return to hardline Hindutva.
At a strategising session in Aurangabad over the weekend, the party identified its movement away from its core Hindu support base as the reason for its poor showing in the last general election.
"For the past six years we have compromised on several issues that were close to our heart," said a senior Sena politician requesting anonymity, "like Indo-Pak relations, cricketing ties between the two countries, the Ram temple movement, labour reforms... our supporters are naturally disappointed."
The party realises that these compromises were partly forced upon it because it was in power at the Centre in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was trying to project a more moderate image. The Sena was correspondingly forced to tone down its aggression.
The first encumbrance is gone. The National Democratic Alliance has lost its bid for re-election. But the BJP is still around and the two parties will be going to the polls together again in Maharashtra.
"We have had discussions with the BJP too," the Sena politician said. "They agree with our conclusions. They realise the need to return to the basics."
The Sena believes the BJP's attempts to woo Muslims to its fold backfired in the election.
"Muslims promised they will vote for us, but they never did," said former Lok Sabha speaker and senior Sena politician Manohar Joshi. (See Interview: 'We will not believe Muslims')
He should know. Joshi lost the electoral battle in Mumbai North-Central to the unheralded Eknath Gaikwad of the Congress. The defeat not only shocked the Sena, it stunned the metropolis, because Joshi was considered near invincible.
Another Sena leader who believes he lost because the party compromised on its Hindutva agenda is Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Nirupam. "Members of the minority communities promised they would vote [for us], but changed their stand at the last moment," he said. Nirupam lost to actor Sunil Dutt in Mumbai Northwest.
"We will invite Narendra Modi and other top BJP leaders for our election campaign [in Maharashtra]," he declared. "Our top leaders will also campaign for the BJP. It's back to basics... it's back to Hindutva."
Though Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray was a little subdued at the press conference on the last day of the Aurangabad conclave, he did indicate that hardline Hindutva would be at the centre of the party's campaign strategy. "We will oppose the central government's move to give reservations to Muslims in jobs," he said. "We agree that Muslims should be promoted, but we don't want the government to isolate them by giving them reservations.
"I feel in our country there are only two religions – poor and rich. The government must promote the poor by giving them reservations without harming the rich."
But while embracing Hindutva with a new vigour, the party may have to give up an issue at the very core of its existence – the fight for the rights of locals. This issue is what defines the Shiv Sena more than Hindutva.
The party's high-profile 'Mee Mumbaikar' campaign – a drive to prevent non-Maharashtrians from settling down in Mumbai – backfired badly in the last general election. The party won only one seat in the metropolis, which was hitherto considered its stronghold. Naturally, the Sena has concluded that non-Maharashtrians, who constitute the majority in Mumbai, voted against it. Combined with the Muslim votes, it was akin to a wave that crashed the Sena citadel.
'Mee Mumbaikar' was the brain child of Bal Thackeray's son and Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray.
Former chief minister Narayan Rane, who is now the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra assembly, was categorical in proclaiming the campaign's death. "The Mee Mumbaikar campaign is terminated now... it's a closed chapter," he said.
Other politicians were more circumspect. "It was a campaign aimed at restoring Mumbai's glory," said spokesman Subhash Desai. "We are not abandoning the campaign. It is being temporarily suspended because we do not have enough time [to implement it]. The priority now is the September-October election."
More reports from Maharashtra
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