The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s running battle with the Shiv Sena on the ‘Marathi manoos’ issue underlines the predicament of an organisation that is wedded in equal measure to Hindi and Hindutva. The Sangh Parivar’s formative years resounded to the rousing cry of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan.’ The slogan pretty much defined the Jan Sangh. The Bharatiya Janata Party, despite outwardly embracing the South, remains fixated to this day on Hindi. It stands to reason then that the Parivar and its political ward cannot countenance the Shiv Sena’s brand of virulent Marathi chauvinism. In a way, the BJP is being paid back in its own coin. The Sena’s opposition to North Indians is rooted in the same exclusivist ideology that informs the Parivar’s overall vision. In and out of power, the BJP has unabashedly pursued a policy of “anti-minorityism.” The party posited this in terms of “justice for all and appeasement of none” but on the ground the anthem invariably translated into aggression against minorities. From Gujarat 2002 to Orissa 2008-2009, the country has been witness to a pattern of violence against minorities whose primary driver was the thought process that motivated the Parivar rank-and-file. Having promoted a “Hindi-Hindu” culture, the BJP today can hardly quarrel with the Sena for targeting one section of Indians. To be fair to the BJP, it never treated its own Hindi fetish as licence to attack non-Hindi speakers. But the party did not protest either when its oldest partner repeatedly set upon innocent migrants from other parts of India.
So why have the RSS and the BJP suddenly woken up to the dangers of Marathi chauvinism? In recent statements, both organisations have unequivocally denounced the divisive nature of the ‘Marathi manoos’ project. Clearly, the urgency derives from the BJP’s growing problems with the Bihar-based Janata Dal (United). The National Democratic Alliance is today a shadow of its former self. Ahead of the 2009 general election, the alliance between the BJP and its largest coalition partner, Nitish Kumar-led JD(U), came under severe strain. Over the past two years, the JD(U) has expressed unease over the BJP’s “communalism” but positively bristled at its quiescence when Bihari migrants were attacked in Maharashtra. The Hindutva party knows that Mr. Kumar has many options outside the BJP whereas the Sena, beleaguered by the emergence of the rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, has none. From the BJP perspective, it makes sense to placate the JD(U) and wait for tempers to cool in Maharashtra. As for the Congress, its evident glee at the state of affairs between the BJP and the Sena is premature given its own share of problems with the Nationalist Congress Party.