Sena's recant

Print edition : June 13, 2014

Uddhav Thackeray.

ON May 1, the Shiv Sena’s newspaper, “Saamna”, published an editorial condemning the Gujarati community. The article accused the community of living and prospering in Maharashtra but owing allegiance to Narendra Modi. The accusation was a throwback to the situation of three decades ago when Gujarati businesses bore the brunt of a violent campaign the Sena ran against Gujaratis. The charge sent shock waves through the community, and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray did his best to underplay it by saying that it was the view of the editor of the paper and not the policy of the party. All this was just before the voting for the Lok Sabha election in Mumbai. The old alliance between the Sena and the BJP was manifesting the strains it usually did at election time. The Sena had always believed itself to be the more powerful partner in the relationship, and the prevailing Modi-mania did little to assuage the party’s injured pride. To add to Uddhav Thackeray’s woes was his rebel cousin, Raj Thackeray, of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), who had proclaimed his support for Modi.

The results showed a sweep by the BJP, and the Sena, as an alliance partner, benefited considerably, especially in Mumbai, where it won three seats. The Sena did its maths and realised that Gujaratis form about 18 per cent of the State’s voters. To atone for its foolhardiness, the party has planned a door-to-door campaign thanking voters for their support and apologising for the “Saamna” editorial. The focus of the campaign will be the Gujarati-dominated areas.

While Gujarati voters can breathe easy that their businesses will not go up in flames, the real winner in all this is the BJP. The nudging and elbowing among the partners in the saffron alliance is bound to intensify with the Assembly elections due later this year. Being in power at the Centre is bound to increase the bargaining power of the State BJP. The Sena will have to not only ingratiate itself with its partner but also keep an eye on the MNS chief who has been lurking on the sidelines. Eating humble pie is not something the Sena does but to do it twice must be leaving a bitter taste indeed.

Lyla Bavadam