After 100 days in office, is Uddhav’s Ayodhya visit a Hindutva outreach program?
Is Uddhav Thackeray’s Ayodhya visit driven by the fear of losing the Hindutva vote bank triggered by Raj Thackeray’s repositioning of the MNS? Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece ‘Samana’ has made it clear that the party doesn’t want to lose the Hindutva card. And the Sena chief during his Ayodhya visit said, “the BJP is not equivalent to Hindutva.”
The man who leads the Maharashtra government, in which two “secular parties” are stakeholders, is commemorating 100 days in the office by visiting Ayodhya. The bond between Shiv Sena and Ayodhya – believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama – goes decades back. Uddhav Thackeray’s father Balasaheb Thackeray was among the top leaders fuelling the Mandir movement – which led to the razing down of the controversial Babri Masjid structure. Playing the Hindutva card has been core to the Shiv Sena’s ideology.
But when Uddhav Thackeray decided to tie the political knot with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and its ideological arch-rival Congress Party in November 2019, his detractors claimed that his hunger for power had made him abandon Balasaheb’s Hindutva legacy.
Soon after the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, another Thackeray chose a new political path. Raj Thackeray repositioned his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and joined the Hindutva boys club. The MNS’s strategy change poses the biggest threat to the Shiv Sena.
The place and timing of the Ayodhya visit chosen by Uddhav Thackeray seems to be an extremely calculated step. Commemorating 100 days in office in Ayodhya is a message to the electorate, as well as the competitive ideological forces such as the BJP and the MNS. It could also be a signal to the NCP and Congress that the Sena is not ready to compromise when it comes to their core ideology. Ahead of the Maharashtra Chief Minister and the Shiv Sena president’s visit to Ayodhya, senior party leader Sanjay Raut had met Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath. Importantly, the Maharashtra CM will not participate in the evening “aarti”.
Addressing the media in Ayodhya, the Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray announced an offer of Rs 1 crore for the construction of the Ram Temple from his trust. His son Aditya Thackeray and Raut were sitting beside him when he claimed that the BJP is not equivalent to Hindutva. “I have disattached our association with the BJP, not with Hindutva. The BJP is not equivalent to Hindutva.” He further added that this was his third visit to Ayodhya in the past one and a half years.
Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray in Ayodhya: Main BJP se alag hua hun, Hindutva se nahi. BJP ka matlab Hindutva nahi hai. Hindutva alag hai, BJP alag hai. pic.twitter.com/DWCQJqebXi— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) March 7, 2020
Notably, even before Thackeray had reached Ayodhya, the Sena had made it clear that there was no change in its core ideology. Sena used Samana –its mouthpiece — to do the talking.
In its editorial today, the Samana took the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – an erstwhile ally of Sena – head-on. Even before Uddhav Thackeray spoke in Ayodhya, Samana made similar arguments in today’s editorial. It said that Lord Ram and Hindutva are not the sole property of any single political party.
It has also not spared the detractors or the Opposition leaders who had prophesied that the Maha Vikas Aghadi would not even survive for a 100 days.
"Those whose government lasted for 80 hours were claiming that the Thackeray regime will not last for even 100 hours. But this MVA government not only thrived but has instilled trust in the minds of people during this period with its performance," the editorial said.
After a long-drawn political deadlock in Maharashtra, the BJP, led by Devendra Fadnavis, had formed a government in the state in November 2019. The supposed coup of the NCP by Ajit Pawar – who was sworn-in as the deputy to Fadnavis - failed. It was the BJP that didn’t last for even 80 hours, as made clear in Samana, which launched an uncouth attack at Fadnavis.
The Ayodhya Visit
The Shiv Sena is claiming that the work done by the MVG government will be Thackeray’s offering to Lord Rama.
"Hence, CM Thackeray's visit to Ayodhya has to be welcomed as he is offering the flowers of works (done by the government) at the feet of Lord Shriram," the Samana said in its editorial.
The Shiv Sena has also attempted to clear the air around Thackeray’s Ayodhya.
"The government may be backed by anyone, but Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena remain the same from within and outside. There is no change in the ideology, " the editorial states.
It has used senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Suresh 'Bhaiyyaji' Joshi's remark to take on the BJP. Joshi had recently said that the Hindu community is not synonymous with the BJP and that opposing the BJP does not amount to opposing Hindus.
Using the RSS leader’s analogy, the Sena has claimed that Ayodhya belongs to all.
"The political and cultural battle in Ayodhya is now over. The Supreme Court cannot be thanked enough for this," it said. The SC verdict in the Ram Mandir- Babri Masjid title suit was in favour of the Hindu groups and it has allotted the contentious land for construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.
"In that battle, several (people) were unmasked. But only (late) Shiv Sena president Balasaheb Thackeray stood behind the Ayodhya (temple) campaigners like a mountain," claims the Samana’s editorial, in an attempt to take the credit for the Mandir movement. It further claims that Bal Thackeray had created trust among Hindus from across the world regarding the construction of the temple.
The Sena has reminded its readers of the late Bal Thackeray's assertion that he was proud that the Babri mosque was razed by Sena workers. The Samana has hailed him as 'Hindu Hridaysamrat'.
"We have experienced several times that Ayodhya lived in the mind of Balasaheb. Now Uddhav Thackeray himself is going there with the same faith. He had gone there when not in power. He is now going as a chief minister with the same humbleness," the Sena said.
Notably, the MNS and Raj Thackeray had recently claimed that the party will carry forward the legacy of the Maratha King and the symbol of Hindutva pride - Shivaji Maharaj. The Sena understands the power of words. Hence, today in the Samana, they have not only taken the BJP head-on and reminded people of Balasaheb and his contribution to the Mandir movement, but they have also claimed that Uddhav Thackeray’s government is running on the “path shown by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj”.
Even though it has tried to strike a balance by referring to Mahatma Gandhi and his dream of Ram Rajya and that the Maharashtra government is working as per the Constitution, it is yet to be seen how Uddhav’s Ayodhya visit will impact the Sena-led government which came to power on November 28 last year.
The comments that Uddhav made in Ayodhya will be read carefully by both the NCP chief Sharad Pawar, and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. One shouldn’t be surprised if it triggers commotion in Maharashtra’s power circles in the coming days, and if reports related to trouble brewing in the alliance surfaces.
This is especially considering the way in which the three parties have already locked horns over their stance on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register, and the developments related to the Bhima Koregaon case over the past month.