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'People have underestimated the Sena'
rediff News Bureau | July 09, 2006 21:56 IST
Enraged over the alleged desecration of a statue of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's late wife Meenatai on Sunday morning, Shiv Sainiks went on the rampage in Mumbai and other cities and towns in Maharashtra throughout the day.
While Mumbai's Joint Commissioner of Police (law and order) Arup Patnaik has said that the police is now in control of the situation, a claim reiterated by state Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, the underlying message behind these protests cannot be ignored.
After passing through a long spell of political turbulence, including the defections of two important leaders (Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray) and infighting, the Sena has now alerted its rivals of its battle-readiness.
Meenatai, who is revered by Sainiks as Ma Saheb, was not an activist during her lifetime, but her name has the emotional capacity to unite Sena workers.
Beyond this association, Sunday's incidents speak volumes about the law and order situation in Maharashtra.
This week's killing of two policemen in Bhiwandi and the rape of a minor girl in Nashik have not gone unnoticed by Sena leaders. In their first reactions to Sunday's violence, Sena Working President Uddhav Thackeray and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Gopinath Munde said law and order lapses will not go unopposed.
Munde told reporters that Abu Asim Azmi, a leader of the Samajwadi Party in Mumbai, allegedly instigated a mob against the construction of a police chowki near a mosque in Bhiwandi, a textile loom town near Mumbai. He implied that Azmi's provocation led to the death of the two policemen. On Sunday, Shiv Sainiks burnt an effigy of Azmi in Thane.
When asked if the Sainiks' protest seemed in danger of growing into a full-scale riot, Prakash Mehta, a BJP MLA in Mumbai, replied: "Why should you mind when we protest? The BJP understands the Shiv Sena's feelings. When a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad was published in another country Muslims hit Indian streets in protest, but you mind our protest against the desecration of Meenatai's statue."
While the protests spread to Nashik, Akola, Pune and Nagpur, among other cities and towns in Maharashtra, the disturbing potential of the incident has become clear.
Dejected Sena workers, who have been aggrieved at the lack of direction from Bal Thackeray, seem to have found a plank for themselves. And their leader this time seems to be Uddhav Thackeray who has taken time to assert himself but made it clear that the Hindutva plank remains with his father and himself, not with cousin Raj, who broke away from the Sena and founded the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
"At last, our leader Uddhavji has said Main hoon na (I am there)," a Sena supporter and textile trader in Mumbai's Dadar area, said.
Seen against the background of recent fissures in the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party coalition, it seems the Sena has now got its issue to unite and play the political game.
"People have underestimated the Sena," says Kumud Sanghvi, a Mumbai-based journalist. "As long as Bal Thackeray is alive, it has its own place in Maharashtra politics."