With the BJP giving stiff competition to the Sena in its bailiwick Mumbai, the latter has resorted to eschewing the very principle its foundation was laid on. In a stunning volte-face, Shiv Sena is now attempting to woo the Muslim voters ahead of the Lok Sabha assembly elections scheduled for next year. It can be safely assumed that ‘Marathi Asmita’ is no longer a campaign watchword for the Shiv Sainiks in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
Conflating the hitherto two disparate identities of Maratha and Muslim, Shiv Sena has launched ‘Me Marathi Musalman’ in one of its Dussehra rallies. Video of Shiv Sena member Naseeb Shaikh of Beed district was found chanting ‘Me Marathi Muslim’ has emerged. Shaikh, a resident of Sirsala in Parli Taluka can be seen in the video making a clarion call to his community members to come out and participate in the Sena’s Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai.
Shaikh claimed that Shiv Sena wanted to create awareness among people about its stand towards Muslims. “We will start a ‘Me Marathi Musalman’ drive with a saffron flag in hand,” he said. Clarifying Sena’s stance, he also proclaimed that Sena had never been against Indians or ‘patriotic’ Muslims, while the opposition continued accruing political mileage by maligning Muslims and using their community to secure vote bank.
These surprising turn of events can be attributed to Sena’s realization of being sidelined by other political parties and with their insipid central belief of Maratha supremacism no longer catching voters’ fancy. Shiv Sena was founded in 1966 by Balasaheb Thackrey on the principles of upholding pro-Marathi ideologies and Hindu Nationalism but it seems like it has decided to shun these ideologies and adopt Congress shenanigans of appeasing Muslims and seeking their support in a desperate attempt to stay relevant in the Maharashtra politics.
Since its inception, Shiv Sena had vehemently opposed appeasing minorities for votes, but fearing political irrelevance they have now espoused the very policy that they accused the Congress of using it to perpetuate the fault-lines in the society. This hints at the Sena leadership’s intellectual bankruptcy and deficiency of innovative ideas to catch voter’s fascination.
Off-late the BJP has aggressively made inroads in the grassroots politics with its innovative campaigns such as Swachh Bharat mission, Jan Dhan Yojana, Demonetisation and various other initiatives reaching the underprivileged and the poor who were ignored by previous Congress regimes.
This has caused voters of regional parties to swing towards the BJP and forced the parties to reorient their political strategy. Disillusionment among their primary voters has also caused regional parties to look beyond their traditional vote bank and tap the voters hitherto ignored.
In past, Shiv Sena has been accused of browbeating North Indians residing in Mumbai on the pretext of Marathi-illiteracy as well as snatching the jobs of fellow Maharashtrians. They are also accused of periodically whipping up a frenzy against Muslims. In 2015, Shiv Sena had endorsed vasectomy of Muslim community. In a scathing attack on PM Modi, Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thacrey, in 2017, claimed that India belongs to Hindus, Muslims have 50 other countries to go to. So the recent attempt by Shiv Sena to woo Muslim voters appears rather opportunistic and disingenuous effort to stall the BJP juggernaut. But as the saying goes ‘Desperate time calls for Desperate measures’, it appears that Shiv Sena is following this maxim in letter and spirit.