Editorial accused them of exploiting the city for personal gain

Barely a week after polling ended in Maharashtra, the strain within the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance has resurfaced.

On Thursday, the Shiv Sena’s newspaper Saamna carried a searing editorial on the occasion of Maharashtra Day against the Gujarati community in Mumbai, which has traditionally supported the BJP and now backs its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.

Twenty-four hours later, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has back-tracked. He appealed to the Gujarati community on Friday to be united with the local Marathi community for the forthcoming assembly elections as well.

But Mr Thackeray’s attempt at damage control does little to take the sting out of the strongly-worded editorial.

The piece criticised Gujarati traders in the city for not participating in the Maharashtra Day celebrations on May 1, and accused them of exploiting the city for personal gain. “The trading community used to say they had no connection with politics. But they rallied together to support the prime ministerial candidate from their community. But how many of them came down from their tall buildings to participate in Maharashtra Day celebrations?” it asked. The editorial asked if members of the trading community had paid tribute to the 105 martyrs of the Samyukta Maharashta movement.

The editorial then went on to issue a veiled threat. “Maharashtra has nurtured and given opportunities to many. But those who have no affection or respect for it should remember that the Martyrs’ Memorial at Hutatma Chowk shows a labourer with a flaming torch.” It ends by stating, “Gujaratis and other traders who came together with pride for Modi should do the same for Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Maharashtra.”

The editorial caused a ripple in political circles, leading to Mr Thackeray press statement on Friday. “In this election, the Gujarati and Marathi community came together strongly and this upset many others. Their attempts to divide us should be ignored. This unity will never be divided and there will be miraculous results,” he said.

BJP sources feel that the Shiv Sena’s editorial is a reaction to possible moves from Uddhav’s cousin and rival Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to play the Marathi card ahead of the assembly polls.

The BJP also played down the rift. “The Gujarati and Marathi community in Mumbai have always stood united in the name of Hindutva. Shiv Sena candidates have also been elected from Gujarati-dominated constituencies. Some people are trying to cause a divide between the Gujarati and Marathi people. The Shiv Sena should not fall for this game,” said senior BJP leader Vinod Tawde.

Meanwhile, the city’s powerful Gujarati community is upset. “It’s not true that Gujaratis have exploited Mumbai. We have lived here for generations and given a lot back to the city. Political parties woo us before elections but say such things later,” said Shantilal Maru, former leader of a Mumbai-based Kutchi organisation.

The president of the Bruhad Mumbai Gujarati Samaj Hemraj Shah said, “The martyrs for the Samyukta Maharashtra movement include Gujaratis as well. Our organisation paid tribute at the martyrs’ memorial. Why has the Shiv Sena suddenly raked up this issue?”

From diamonds to grain: Gujaratis in Mumbai

Mumbai is home to approximately 30 lakh Gujaratis, of whom around 22 lakh are registered voters according to the Bruhad Mumbai Gujarati Samaj. Maharashtra has around 60 lakh members of the community. Outside of Gujarat, Maharashtra is home to perhaps the largest population of Gujaratis.

The two states have strong historical links and were once part of the Bombay Presidency. The Samyukta Maharashtra movement later led to the formation of the Maharashtra state, with Mumbai as its capital.

The Gujarati community has a strong presence in business and trading. “ Ninety per cent of the diamond merchants in the city are Gujaratis. But we also employ a large number of Maharashtrians,” says Kirit Bhansali, convenor of the Bharat Diamond Bourse.

The community also dominates the metal, paper, textile and grain trade. It also has a significant presence in the stock market.

Shiv Sena threat
Does the BJP's scramble to mollify Uddhav underline coalition compulsions?
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