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The Battle for Maharashtra

Sena-BJP fears ire of non-Maharashtrians

Tara Shankar Sahay & Vijay Singh in Mumbai | October 07, 2004 20:13 IST
Last Updated: October 07, 2004 20:14 IST

In an attempt to counter the beating it took owing to the Shiv Sena's 'Mee Mumbaikar' campaign, the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine has been trying to woo the north Indian electorate in Mumbai.

Not just north Indian, it has been trying to assuage the feelings of all non-Maharashtrians by reaching out to them through community-based organizations like the Uttar Bharatiya Sangh, Abhiyan, Uttar Bharatiya Janata Parishad, Gujarat Brahman Samaj and others.

Former Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha MP Kirit Somaiyya defended the Mee Mumbaikar campaign saying it included all the people residing in the city. "We have made our stand clear but the Congress continues to spread disinformation and canard against us to extract electoral mileage," he said.

At least some organisations seem to have accepted this explanation.

"The Congress spread the rumour that the Mee Mumbaikar meant that north Indians would not be allowed into Mumbai," said UBJP chief Amarjit Mishra. "Actually, when [Shiv Sena leader] Raj Thackeray mentioned the Mee Mumbaikar campaign, he meant that Mumbaikars included north Indians."

He said that BJP leader Pramod Mahajan had already apologised for the Kalyan railway station incident in which Shiv Sena activists beat up Bihari youths who were on their way to Mumbai to appear for a railway recruitment examination. Mahajan requested that the Sena not be repeatedly penalised for the incident.

"The Shiv Sena made amends by giving a Lok Sabha ticket to its senior leader Sanjay Nirupam, a Bihari," Mishra said.

But former UBS chief Mithaidas Singh is not buying that argument. "Where were these people when the poor Bihari men were beaten up? They only pay lip-service to the people and disappear during crunch times," he said.

The present UBS chief R N Singh said the organization steered clear of political issues because its aim is the development and welfare of the north Indian community.

Congress candidate from the Andheri assembly seat Suresh Shetty ridiculed the Sena's Mee Mumbaikar campaign.

"We just can't stop people from coming to Mumbai city. We are not living in a communist regime. We live in a democratic set-up, which guarantees freedom of movement. We can choose to stay in any part of the country. It is our fundamental right," he said.

He gave the example of the Mogaveera community from south Karnataka, whose members have been staying in Mumbai for the last 150 years. If one went by the Sena's thinking, he said, these people would be banished from the city.

Porus Bhatt of the GBS said that Gujaratis account for almost 40 lakh of Mumbai's approximately 1.25 crore population.

"My grandfather settled here. If the Sena-BJP think that we are going to pack up and go, they better think again," he said adding Maharashtrians constitute only about 25-30% of Mumbai's population.

"They (sainiks) could not convert the non-Maharashtrians to their way of thinking. The Biharis (beaten up at Kalyan) bore the brunt of their frustration," he said.

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He said the amount of foreign investment coming into Mumbai could be much greater but for the Sena's act of spoiling the industrial climate.

"Our leaders go abroad seeking foreign investment. At home, the Sena sends wrong signals by resorting to violence against innocent people. Is it not contradictory?"

He was also unconvinced about the Sena's claim of beautifying Mumbai.

"How can the Shiv Sena talk of beautifying Mumbai? In its five years in power, the Sena-BJP government borrowed loans at 14% interest to build bridges and expressways, which are not being used because of the high toll.

The Congress-NCP government has had to keep aside Rs 8,000 crore in its budget to pay just the interest on the loans taken by the Sena-BJP government."

He claimed that the Sena had sent its top leaders like Raj Thackeray to campaign outside the metropolis upon realising that the Mee Mumbaikar campaign had backfired.

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