Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday compared police action on Delhi’s Jamia Millia University campus following protests against the Citizen (Amendment) Act or CAA on Sunday to the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, surprising his new allies, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), as well as ally-turned-foe, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But none was as surprised as Thackeray’s own Shiv Sena party colleagues, who were left deciphering the reason behind his statement a day after he reiterated his party’s Hindutva identity.
Thackeray’s statement drew strong condemnation from the BJP, which said the chief minister’s party must now be renamed as Sonia Sena after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Analysts say the ideological confusion reflected in Thackeray’s statements about the police action and Hindutva is the new normal for the Shiv Sena, which grabbed power in Maharashtra by tying up with the Congress and the NCP after parting ways with its oldest ally, the BJP, last month.
The Sena has vacillated on several issues since the Thackeray-led government took office on November 28.
It voted in favour of changes to the citizenship law in Parliament’s lower House, Lok Sabha, but refrained from backing the legislation in the upper House — Rajya Sabha.
The Sena opted out of an Opposition delegation that met President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday to raise concerns about the CAA. But it ticked off Congress leader Rahul Gandhi over his remarks about Hindutva ideologue, Veer Savarkar, on Saturday even though it compared the CAA student protests violence to a massacre in colonial India.
Shiv Sena lawmaker Sanjay Raut insisted that there is no confusion in the Sena. “…our party leaders, as well as cadres, are very happy with our government in Maharashtra. There is an atmosphere of freedom and empowerment that we did not have when we were with the BJP especially in the last five years,” said Raut, who is also the editor of the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, Saamna.
He questioned why they should have gone with the Opposition leaders to meet the President over CAA. “We are not with the [Congress-led] UPA [United Progressive Alliance]. We are out of [the BJP-led] NDA [National Democratic Alliance] but are not with the UPA. We have our own identity in Parliament.”
In an editorial in Saamna on Wednesday, Raut stuck to the party’s guns and said the BJP government should know that it has lost the plot when there is violence over the CAA.
“If police uses guns on unarmed students, is not this just like what was done at Jallianwala Bagh? The BJP has now lost any moral right to talk about the 1984 Sikh riots,’’ said the editorial.
A Sena lawmaker defended Thackeray’s Jallianwala Bagh remark saying he speaks with heart and feelings. “His are not rehearsed speeches. Maybe the Jallianwala Bagh comment was a bit of a stretch but on Savarkar, we indicated our stance to the Congress clearly. Currently, it is about our political survival and some backtracking will be required by both Sena and the Congress,” the lawmaker said on condition of anonymity.
Analysts say there is little doubt that the Sena has been caught in a bind over its ideological identity despite clarifications of the Sena leaders.
They say on one hand, it cannot give up its hardline identity completely as that would benefit the BJP. On the other, there is a realisation that they will have to find new space if the Sena does not want to be the BJP’s B team.
Much of Shiv Sena’s gains in Marathwada, parts of North Maharashtra and Western Maharashtra are based on its Hindutva ideology unlike in Mumbai, Thane, Konkan, where the “sons of the soil” ideology still has a resonance.
“There is a slow shifting of position by the Shiv Sena. It will not be spelt out but the party will move from hardline Hindutva back to a more robust regional identity base. Just as Congress is embracing soft Hindutva, the Sena will take the mid path on secularism. This will also enable it to align with the NCP in the longer run by 2024 as is being planned,’’ said political analyst Hemant Desai.
Desai said that both Thackeray and his son, Aaditya, are redefining the party.
Thackeray’s statement over the student protests against the CAA came following feedback from Aaditya and his supporters, said a Sena functionary on condition of anonymity.
Another Sena leader said that the party leadership was seriously looking at a future alliance with the NCP.
“We have much in common with the NCP and a regional alliance is feasible even if there are teething problems. This will not be easy but the party chief is clear that our doors are closed for the BJP. We realise that we have to make space for ourselves including in regions like Vidarbha, where we had been kept out by the BJP. And, to do this, we will need to redefine ourselves in some ways.’’