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Shiv Sena tries to appease Mumbai's Gujaratis after decades of derision, draws flak

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 3 September 2016, 13:36 IST

The Shiv Sena was born because of the perceived injustice meted out to Marathi people in Mumbai and Maharashtra. It always had Marathis at the core of its politics and social activities for over four decades. But now, it seems to have changed its line.

Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray used say that South Indian people were responsible for snatching jobs away from Marathis in Mumbai, while Gujaratis drew his ire for controlling the city's business.

But on 2 September 2016, the political and social circles of Mumbai were in for a surprise - the Sena seemed to have given up its opposition to non-Marathi people, especially Gujaratis.

The function to launch the new housing policy was held in Pant Nagar, Ghatkopar. (Photo: Ashwin Aghor)

Friday saw the BJP-led state government announce a new housing policy in Pant Nagar, a locality in the central Mumbai suburb of Ghatkopar.

Its partner, the Sena, then proceeded to shock people when it put up hoardings in Gujarati all over Pant Nagar, which is home to a majority of middle class Gujarati families, many of whom would benefit from the new scheme.

Interestingly, the hoarding says that the housing policy is one more promise fulfilled by the Shiv Sena. "We had promised to bring in the new housing policy for cluster development, and we have done it. It is one more promise delivered by Shiv Sena," says the hoarding.

Decades of derision

The Sena's political opposition to Gujaratis is well documented. In fact, just recently, when the state government had imposed a ban on the sale of meat during the Paryushan Parv, the Sena had passed a resolution in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai denouncing the government's decision, and allowing the sale of meat during the period.

Last year, too, it had vehemently opposed the decision of the Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation to ban the sale during the eight-day Paryushan festival.

On 27 May this year, the Sena had put up hoardings in Ghatkopar, the constituency of housing minister Prakash Mehta (a Gujarati), depicting him as an arrogant cat. It stated: "This cat has been thriving on the support of the tiger (Sena's symbol for itself). It is now time to tear the mask."

Political meaning

Political analyst Dinesh Thite says the new hoardings are an indication that the Shiv Sena has realised it cannot win elections on Marathis' support alone.

"The Sena got votes from all sections of society since it was in alliance with the BJP. But it has learnt its lesson in the 2014 Assembly elections and the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation elections - that it can not get a majority on its own, since non-Marathis, especially Gujarati voters, will not support it. This is the damage control mechanism created by the Sena to appease non-Marathi voters ahead of the MCGM elections, in case the alliance with BJP does not take place," Thite says.

However, Thite feels it is too little, too late. After decades of being highly abusive and offensive to Gujarati sentiments, the Shiv Sena can't just turn the tide on the basis of one hoarding.

Criticism and defence

The Shiv Sena's arch-rival, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), was the first to pounce on the new hoarding. "They have been claiming ownership of Marathi people's issues for all these years. Today, they gave it up just for some gains in the elections. This is cheating - not only with their supporters, but also the Gujarati people of the city. We will not allow appeasement of a section of society just to get a few votes. This is the mediocrity of first order," said MNS leader and corporator Sandeep Deshpande.

The Shiv Sena has gone on the back foot after the strong criticism. Reacting to the allegations of appeasement, Shiv Sena leader and Member of Parliament Arvind Sawant said: "This is not a political stunt. There are millions of Gujarati people staying in Mumbai for several generations now. They have adopted Marathi culture. These people support the Shiv Sena.

"There is no question of appeasing any community. It is just a way to tell people that we have delivered our promise made during the campaign."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 3 September 2016, 13:36 IST
 
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