It is a bizarre battle between Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut and the Shiv Sena from all perspectives except one – political.
For a week now, the two sides have torn into each other with snide remarks, invectives, threats, and derogatory language that is unbecoming of a self-made film star and a party leading the Government of Maharashtra. This provided endless hours of ‘entertainment’ and outrage fodder for the public, pointless debates on primetime, and more. Ranaut made a move; Sena made a counter-move. The battle escalated every day.
To what end and whose benefit, are the obvious questions staring out of this created chaos.
Ironically, it’s not the Shiv Sena.
How Kangana Turned The Narrative To Herself
Despite being in power in the state and in Mumbai’s municipal corporation (BMC), which it inelegantly used to demolish Ranaut’s bungalow on grounds of illegal construction, the party is on the back foot. Its leaders like Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut rose to her verbal bait; its cadres hurled footwear at her posters and raised slogans against her at the Mumbai airport to counter her barb that Mumbai felt like ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’. After months of coming across as a changed and mature political force, the Sena seemed to relapse into its belligerent self.
Ranaut, who took up the issue of nepotism in Bollywood after the death by suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput on 14 June, has turned the narrative to herself.
She said that he was ‘murdered’ by an alleged ‘drugs and movie mafia racket’, ranted against the Mumbai Police and its investigation into Rajput’s case, and whined that she felt ‘unsafe’ in Mumbai. Ranaut had inexplicably joined a fight that was not hers.
- Kangana Ranaut, who took up the issue of nepotism in Bollywood after the death by suicide of Sushant Singh, has turned the narrative to herself.
- Ranaut has inexplicably joined a fight that was not hers.
- Why did she turn this into her personal battle and turn the personal into the political at lightning speed? Ranaut gained a fair bit, by any reckoning.
- Kangana Ranaut has long worn her admiration for BJP and PM Modi on her sleeve. It seems now that she has aligned herself with its ‘purpose’ too.
- In the last two months, forces have sought to politicise the unfortunate death of Sushant Singh Rajput in a number of ways.
- It began by running a smear campaign to link Aaditya Thackeray to events immediately preceding Sushant’s death.
- The BMC, ruled by Shiv Sena, blundered in its ham-handed attempt at demolishing Kangana Ranaut’s bungalow, rising to her bait of “Ukhaado, mera kya ukhaadoge?”
- Kangana’s off-screen ‘hostile power’ is, of course, the Maharashtra govt, and more specifically, CM Uddhav Thackeray.
Why Did Kangana Turn The Personal Into The Political?
Kangana’s remark on perceived lack of safety in the city – undoubtedly among India’s better and safer cities for women – riled the Sena’s Raut who asked her to not return from her Manali home. He echoed the sentiments of many Mumbaikars, especially Shiv Sainiks, who believed she was insulting the city where she had blossomed as a star. He had walked into a trap. From there, it spun out of control – she sought and got Y+ security from the central government, challenged Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in language most foul and disrespectful, likened him to Babur, riffed on the pain of Kashmiri Pandits, and became the heroine of this saga.
Why did she turn this into her personal battle and turn the personal into the political at lightning speed? Ranaut gained a fair bit, by any reckoning.
- She has the security detail that only a handful of Indians like the Chief Justice of India have
- She now enjoys a national political profile that nicely segues into her stardom
- She claims victimhood against a powerful regional party
- She has demonstrated her clout with the national party that governs India
Ranaut has long worn her admiration for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on her sleeve. It seems now, on joining the dots, that she has aligned herself with its ‘purpose’ too. In her tweet saying that she feared the Mumbai Police more than ‘movie mafia’, she had tagged BJP’s MLA Ram Kadam, though in another tweet she clarified that she had twice turned down the party’s election ticket. Then, she made another political entity – Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh – the target of her ire, with a reference to the ‘Taliban’.
How Sushant’s Death Was ‘Used’ To Corner Shiv Sena & The Thackerays
In any combat, it’s instructive to look for two elements: the purpose and the victor. In the last two months, forces have sought to politicise the unfortunate death of Sushant Singh Rajput in a number of ways.
It began by running a smear campaign to link Aaditya Thackeray – the chief minister’s son and a minister in the Maharashtra Cabinet – to events immediately preceding the death, and then:
- building the narrative that it was murder and not suicide
- dragging the investigation to the Supreme Court
- snatching the case from Mumbai Police and handing it to the country’s most powerful national agency – the Central Bureau of Investigation
- enlisting other central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in the probe
- referring to Rajput as ‘son of Bihar’ who made it big in Mumbai but battled its entrenched establishment
In short, every box was ticked to corner the Shiv Sena and Thackerays.
Why BJP Had A Bone To Pick With The Thackerays – And How It ‘Ensnared’ Them
It is no secret that the BJP has been smarting since November 2019 when, despite it being the single largest party after the assembly election, it was forced to see Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Indian National Congress join forces to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government with Uddhav Thackeray as chief minister.
It has, by accounts available but off-record, unleashed its infamous ‘Operation Kamal’ on several occasions to unseat the government and assume power as it did successfully in Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, and attempted in Rajasthan.
Thackeray, with the political guidance of NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, had so far managed to keep calm and continue in power. Through his transformation from being the late Bal Thackeray’s son to Sena President and Chief Minister, Thackeray kept his poise and sobriety, asserting himself without showing the Sena’s trademark belligerence and aggression, and attempted to recast the party in his image.
He has not always been successful, but has put the BJP – an ally of nearly 25 years – in its place.
His predecessor, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, has left no occasion to put Thackeray or his government on the mat. Maharashtra’s – especially Mumbai and Pune’s – rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths have made Thackeray defensive.
What better time for the BJP to ensnare him in other ways too?
A particular section of online trolls stepped up the attack on the Thackeray family by mocking Aaditya as a ‘penguin’ and unleashing several memes / jokes around it. Then, there was the attempt to link him to the Sushant Singh Rajput case. And now the efforts to get a rise out of the Thackerays – and Shiv Sena – by provoking them on regional pride or Mumbai pride. It is, of course, possible that these are not linked. It’s equally possible that they are, indeed, part of a plan.
How BMC & Shiv Sena Walked Into Kangana’s ‘Trap’
The BMC, ruled by Sena, blundered in its ham-handed attempt at demolishing Ranaut’s bungalow, rising to her bait of “Ukhaado, mera kya ukhaadoge?” The day after the demolition, Sena’s newspaper headlined it ‘Ukhaad diya’. She then termed this the ‘death of democracy’ and likened it to the (alleged) ‘demolition’ of Ram Mandir by Babur, called the BMC team ‘Babur’s army’ – where Thackeray is ostensibly Babur.
It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so farcical – the late Bal Thackeray was the first political leader to proudly claim credit for the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Ranaut’s dog-whistles have been unmistakable.
The Bombay High Court, which she had approached for relief, stated that prima facie the BMC’s action does not appear to be bona fide and smacks of ‘mala fide’.
The timing and manner of demolition was a wrong move on the Sena’s part and deserves criticism, but it would be myopic to criticise it without a reference to the context in which it happened – the deliberate provocation Kangana piled up, and the dog-whistles she used.
Pawar has since counselled Thackeray that he “shouldn’t have a thin skin” in the rough and tumble of realpolitik, but the damage has been done.
How Kangana Ranaut ‘Played A Role’ In A Shadowy Political Game
Kangana Ranaut has falsely positioned this as a battle between ‘Manikarnika’ and a hostile ruling power. Manikarnika Tambe, better known as Rani Lakshmibai, laid down her life battling the devious British forces during the First War of Independence in 1857-58. Ranaut made a film on the legendary valiant queen with herself in the eponymous role.
Her off-screen ‘hostile power’ is, of course, the Maharashtra government, more specifically, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
For seven days in a row, the Ranaut-Sena face-off dominated news cycles and headlines, but she – her rants and grievances – are NOT the news India needed.
In the best tradition of manufactured controversies, this one too kept the public’s focus away from news of grave concern:
- an average of 94,000 COVID-19 cases per day
- the first bullets fired across the India-China border in 45 years
- the dire state of the economy
- lockdown-induced massive job losses and hunger
- suicides by hundreds of Indians who could not take it any longer
Willingly or otherwise, Kangana Ranaut played a role in a shadowy political game.
(Smruti Koppikar, a Mumbai-based senior journalist, writes on politics, cities, gender and media. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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