Let down by Congress govts. in the past, Muslims find a ‘friend’ in Sena

Office-bearers of local branch say party got an image makeover after former CM Uddhav Thackeray deftly handled the COVID-19 challenge and assured protection against CAA, NRC 

Updated - April 13, 2023 05:29 pm IST

Published - April 08, 2023 01:53 am IST

With everyone now busy with Ramzan, Sena’s 232nd shakha wears a deserted look..

With everyone now busy with Ramzan, Sena’s 232nd shakha wears a deserted look.. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

With the Muslim holy month of Ramzan well into its second fortnight, Mohammed Ali Road in south Mumbai is festooned with lights and dotted with food stalls serving culinary delights.

Amid the bustle, the Shiv Sena’s shakha (branch) in a crowded alleyway in the area wears a deserted look. Seated in a small room in the 10x10 office, with white walls and dim lights, are the branch’s pramukh (chief), upah pramukh (deputy), and coordinator.

Sharif Deshmukh, 55, the shakha coordinator, says residents from the predominantly Muslim locality usually throng the office with their woes — shortage of water, inflated power bills, and difficulty in getting an appointment at a government hospital. But with everyone now busy with Ramzan, the footfall has dipped.

He says this is the Sena’s 232nd shakha, set up just 10 months back after the former Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government led by Uddhav Thackeray decided in November 2021 to increase the number of wards of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation from 227 to 236. Following the ouster of the MVA government in June last year, the new Eknath Shinde-led Sena-BJP ruling coalition issued an ordinance in August reversing the delimitation of wards.

Mr. Deshmukh, who joined the Sena a decade ago, says discussions are often held in the branch on issues concerning Muslims in the State and the future of the Shinde government. The party workers have been closely following the Sena’s moves since it joined hands with the ideologically-opposed Congress and Nationalist Congress Party to form the MVA government in 2019.

‘Just a vote bank’

Talking about past relations with the community, the shakha coordinator says following the Sena’s role in the 1993 riots, the Muslim community had supported the Congress. “But the Congress on coming to power did nothing to empower or educate us. It just used us as a vote bank,” he says.

Mr. Deshmukh points out that the Congress had formed several committees to make recommendations for the betterment of Muslims, but no steps were taken to improve their condition despite reports such as that of the Dr. Gopal Singh Committee in 1983, the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee in 2006, and the Maharashtra government-appointed Mehmood-ur-Rehman Committee in 2008. In 2014, the then Congress-NCP coalition government announced 5% reservation for Muslims in education and government jobs. However, the Bombay High Court later set aside the decision.

Uddhav’s leadership

The office-bearers of the shakha say the Sena got an image makeover after Mr. Thackeray deftly handled the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and assured the public of their safety by regularly addressing them on social media. “He never discriminated on the grounds of religion,” Mr. Deshmukh says.

He highlights the former Chief Minister’s role in defusing the tension that prevailed in the Muslim-dominated Dongri area after a mob killed two seers and their driver on suspicion of being child-lifters in Palghar district in April 2020. He also recalls Mr. Thackeray’s assurance to citizens protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in 2019 that “till I am the CM, I will not implement these policies”.

Shakha pramukh Mushtaq Popere, who had a decades-long association with the Congress, says, “I was drawn to the Sena only because of Uddhav saheb’s work during the pandemic. He did not get a chance to realise his full potential, but he showed he cares for us.”

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