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Ahead of BMC elections, Marathi signboards for establishments being officially enforced by the Shiv Sena in Mumbai

Print edition : Aug 05, 2022 T+T-

Ahead of BMC elections, Marathi signboards for establishments being officially enforced by the Shiv Sena in Mumbai

A signboard of NTPC is seen outside its office in Mumbai. A file photograph.

A signboard of NTPC is seen outside its office in Mumbai. A file photograph. | Photo Credit: FRANCIS MASCARENHAS

Many years ago, when the Shiv Sena was still a party that was yet to outgrow its street-fighter origins, one of its predominant campaigns was to force shop owners to put up Marathi signboards. It was part of the ‘Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians’ conviction that was the driving force of the Sena. As the party started its slow progress towards political maturity, such campaigns became less visible and when the Sena teamed up with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in 2019, there were fewer and fewer signs of its earlier insular tendencies.

But, traces of the party’s old beliefs clearly linger. On April 6, the Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) issued a press release saying all shops and establishments in the city should have signboards in Marathi. If there were two languages on the board, the Devanagari script should be the larger of the two. Shops were given until May 31 to implement this order.

The April order also said that liquor shops and bars must not bear names of legendary personalities or forts. Such establishments would have to change their names and were allowed an extended deadline of June 30. To make sure the new ruling was widely publicised, the BMC put up notices in shopping centres, malls, markets and all the 24 ward offices. On May 31, the corporation announced that it will survey the city’s commercial signboards over the next 10 days. Defaulters, it said, will be penalised under the Shops Act, 2017.

The order did not go down well with traders. In a statement issued in April, the Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association said that shop owners were yet to recover from COVID-related losses of the last two years. Changing signboards was an expensive business. The note said that enforcing the change would not go down well with traders.

The threat was a quiet one, but the MVA, however, took note of it. The BMC elections are due later this year. The term of the last BMC ended in March and the corporation is currently being run by a state-appointed administrator. Pushing the Marathi agenda at this particular time seems to be related to the BMC elections. The MVA, and specifically the Sena, seems to be hoping to consolidate the votes of Marathi voters. The polls this time are expected to be a tough fight with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) making every effort to oust the Sena from its 25-year-old rule over the BMC. The Sena is probably hoping that the new order will help it replay its 2017 victory (which it also fought separately from the BJP) when it had again resurrected its Marathi manoos agenda.

Two earlier Bills also facilitated the push in favour of the Marathi language. One was passed in February 2020 when Marathi was made a compulsory language in State schools across all mediums and run by all Boards. The second Bill was passed in July 2021 when The Maharashtra Official Language Act,1964 was amended by the State Assembly to make Marathi the official language for all administrative work in government offices.