(Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist, political commentator, globe trotter and author. He has covered all Indian elections since 1971 and significant international events. He is a frequent participant on TV debates.)
Yet again, there is an organized effort to raise communal passions in Mumbai. But mercifully, no violence has erupted. Not because the BJP and Shiv Sena alliance has become tolerant or secular, but because the divisive and aggressive language used by Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member and editor of Samna, has not found takers in the state.
The reason that Mumbai did not get unduly alarmed is because within the Shiv Sena, many leaders or activists do not support the style and substance of Sanjay Raut's politics. He has raised the issue when the Sena is completely fractured into many factions. No faction would like to burn its fingers, and stake its future electoral prospects by supporting him right now. The election for the wealthy Mumbai Corporation is less than two years away. It is a very prestigious election. The Municipal budget of the Metropolis is larger than many states in India. Bollywood, the stock market and cricket, the three major mass-based institutions which define the societal fabric of Mumbai have remained steadfastly secular and liberal. Business is dominated by Gujarat and Marwari communities, as also Punjabi and Parsi; they have a stake in co-existence, not ideologically, but purely out of self-interest and survival.
Mumbai, despite the ranting and rhetoric of the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena or Raj-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has remained true to its spirit of cosmopolitanism and cooperation; voters have roundly routed the MNS and brought the Shiv Sena to its knees. The so-called Marathi votebank is split. It was never really a Marathi vote bank anyway. Marathi voters have voted for the Congress, the BJP, the RPI and so on. They have voted for the BJP even when it had called off its alliance with the Sena. There was a time when the BJP felt obliged to play second-fiddle to the Sena. At the time, we had an India of "class divide". The middle class Marathi-Maharashtrian with upper-caste roots was close to the Sangh Parivar and the BJP. The economically lower middle class, a section of the working class, some lumpens and unemployed youth were the Sena supporters. Later, even that base was broken up, with a younger and militant lumpen joining Raj Thackeray's MNS.
Raj Thackeray has not joined the Sanjay Raut bandwagon, if indeed, he has one. Not a single Sena minister in the Fadanvis government has even mildly endorsed the line. It is unlikely that Raut was unaware of this lack of enthusiasm for his communal campaign. Then what did he want to achieve? Or rather what has he achieved? He has embarrassed his leader Uddhav. He has embarrassed the state BJP leadership. But he has also created a rift in the alliance before the Muncipal Election.
Veteran politicians in the staet like Sharad Pawar and Narayan Rane have already begun to say that the state government is on tenterhooks. Not because of a threat from the opposition, but from detractors within the alliance. There is talk that the BJP-Sena partnership will break on the eve of the Municipal Elections. It is at then that there will be some new arrangement of political forces is likely to take shape. Pawar has maintained a close relationship with the Sena (read Sanjay Raut !). His NCP may have an underground treaty with the BJP, with Modi declaring publicly that Pawar is his Guru, but the Marathas who dominate the NCP are not comfortable with a Brahmin as Chief Minister. Brahmins constitute less than 4 per cent of the state population and Marathas are around 36 per cent (with Kunbis).
It is significant that despite the end of the Congress-NCP relationship, Pawar campaigned intensely for the Congress candidate Narayan Rane for the by-election in the Bandra East constituency. Rane, formerly a militant Shiv Sainik and Sena Chief Minister in 1999, today swears that the Sena is his Enemy No1. The BJP is keen to marginalize the Sena before the Municipal election, and hence has not helped their fraternal candidate. The picture will be clear once the results of the by-election in Bandra are announced tomorrow (April 15). If the Shiv Sena wins, it will not entertain Raut's views as they won't be compatible with Mumbai life. If the Sena loses to Rane, then they will have to find another agenda and reposition themselves vis-a-vis the BJP.
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