In balancing act with Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena walks tightrope on Hindutva and secularism

In balancing act with Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena walks tightrope on Hindutva and secularism

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray at the site of Bal Thackeray’s memorial on Friday. (Source: Twitter)

Reflecting a swift change in the political equations in the state, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who had once called for the disenfranchisement of Muslims, last week attended a meeting organised by Muslim clerics and assuaged fears of the community over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Leading a tripartite coalition in the state, the Shiv Sena, it seems, is now walking a tightrope — between its own Hindutva and the secularism of its allies the NCP and the Congress.

On Tuesday, party’s mouthpiece Saamana, of which Raut is the executive editor, had come out in defence of a woman seen holding a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard earlier this week at a gathering of students at the Gateway of India to express solidarity with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students. The woman has since been booked by Mumbai police under an IPC section used against those trying to provoke rioting.

Earlier, on Monday, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had compared Sunday’s attack on students in JNU to 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.

Uddhav had earlier likened the police action inside Jamia Millia University to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. “I empathise with their feelings. The youth is the pillar on which the future of our society rests. We need to empower them. I am with them,” Thackeray had said.

While Sena leaders are emphatic that the party is not changing its stripes, a number of public statements made by its leaders over the past one month appear to indicate a shift with its avowedly radical Hindutva stand, its hallmark since 1989.

Raut, too, insists there is no change in the party’s stand. “Our Hindutva is never a sham.”

Referring to his defence of the ‘Free Kashmir’ poster, the Sena MP said, “The police exceed their brief in some cases. Brainwashing of the police is required to tell them the new regime has come to power.”

Interestingly, while several state governments have taken a clear stand against the newly amended citizenship Act and NRC, as well as the National Population Register, the Shiv Sena has been ambiguous.

While Sena MPs voted in favour of CAA in Lok Sabha, the party abstained from voting in Rajya Sabha after an outcry from the Congress.

During a meeting with a delegation of Muslim legislators in the last week of December, Thackeray had also assured that no detention centres would be set up for the purpose of NRC and CAA. “Nobody’s rights will be taken away. The government is strong enough to protect the rights of citizens of all religions,” the CM had said but stopped short of saying that his government will not implement the NRC or NPR. The state government also hasn’t made a move to pass a resolution against the CAA and NRC, as in Kerala, something that could bring it in direct confrontation with the Centre.

A delicate balancing act, Sena leaders agree, is in progress to accommodate the interests of all members of the tripartite coalition. “The government is not formed on Hindutva or secularism. It is formed as per the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) on the issues of the state. In such a scenario, taking a clear stand is difficult for the party as it is not possible for the party to abandon Hindutva and related ideological issues,” said a Sena functionary.

A Sena leader said the party would safely go by the CMP that is based on the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, which uses the word “Secular” to describe the Indian Republic.

Perhaps, there was no better illustration of the tightrope walk by Sena than CM’s statements in the Assembly session last month saying Sena was “wrong” to mix religion with politics, but later claiming that the party hasn’t changed its religion. “We were perhaps wrong that we are mixing religion with politics. But, we forgot that politics is a gamble and it has to be played like a gamble and started mixing politics with religion for which we have faced backlash,” Thackeray had said.

“We remained with the BJP for Hindutva. We haven’t changed our religion. We were Hindus yesterday, we are Hindus today, and we will remain Hindus tomorrow. We have come together for government formation on basis of Common Minimum Programme, like you (the BJP) went with Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee and Mehbooba Mufti and Ram Vilas Paswan, who had once described the BJP as Bharat Jalau Party,” he had added.

However, NCP leaders claim the Sena is coming back to its original roots. “The birth of Sena was never to do politics on Hindutva. It was launched to take up the issues of Marathi manoos (people). After the Sena joined hands with the BJP, it got swayed away (with politics of religion). Now, it has come to its original form,” said Nawab Malik, Minister for Minority Affairs and NCP’s chief spokesperson.

Sachin Sawant, Congress spokesperson, said, “When a party comes in power, it goes by the Constitution and not by the party’s agenda. The government is taking steps in the right direction in terms of CAA and NRC.”