In seeking minority rapport, Uddhav-led Sena’s politics takes a more inclusive turn

As Muslims gravitate towards the Shiv Sena (UBT), the community’s support would prove crucial for Bal Thackeray’s son in his battle for legitimacy on the streets with the ruling Eknath Shinde-led Sena

Updated - March 18, 2023 02:27 pm IST

Published - March 18, 2023 07:47 am IST - Pune

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray assures leaders from the Muslim community that no detention centre will come up in Maharashtra during a meeting on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2019.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray assures leaders from the Muslim community that no detention centre will come up in Maharashtra during a meeting on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2019. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Beleaguered Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray is pinning his hopes on the Muslim community to shore up his party’s fortunes after the undivided Sena’s core support base split down the middle with Eknath Shinde’s revolt in June last year.

The Shinde-led Sena is on the ascendant after forming a coalition government in Maharashtra with the BJP, and with the Election Commission on February 17 allotting it the name ‘Shiv Sena’ and the party’s bow and arrow symbol. Forty of the 55 MLAs and 12 of the 19 Lok Sabha MPs from the Thackeray camp are now with the Shinde faction.

Also read: Muslim community recognises Uddhav Thackeray as leader of the real Shiv Sena, says Sanjay Raut  

While Mr. Thackeray awaits the Supreme Court’s verdict on a plea staking claim to the original party founded by his father, Bal Thackeray, the Shinde-led Sena and the BJP are straining every sinew to end the Thackeray clan’s 25-year stranglehold on the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

In the 2017 civic polls, the BJP — riding high on the ‘Narendra Modi wave’ — had snared 82 of the 227 seats, rattling the undivided Sena, which secured 97 seats. Muslim support could prove handy for Mr. Thackeray in the event of a close contest this time.

Also read: Sena vs Sena | Supreme Court is the ‘only ray of hope’, says Uddhav Thackeray

‘Real alternative’

Muslims have steadily gravitated towards Mr. Thackeray over the past few years and view him as a moderate leader who does not use the Hindutva ideology to target minorities. For a party that played a major role in the 1993 anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai, the Thackeray-led Sena’s politics has come a long way.

Following his father’s death in November 2012, Mr. Thackeray has gradually revamped the Sena into a more inclusive entity. During his short-lived tenure as Chief Minister, he never failed to stress that his father was only against a few members of the community who harboured pro-Pakistan sentiments.

According to political observers, ‘Sena 2.0’ has come at a time stridently pro-Muslim parties like Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM are losing their sheen in Maharashtra and the Abu Azmi-led Samajwadi Party State unit is being viewed as a spent force.

“The minority community has begun to regard the Shiv Sena (UBT) as a real alternative. Traditional parties like the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have failed to live up to their promises and pro-Muslim parties like the AIMIM are fast losing steam at the civic body and Assembly levels,” says senior political analyst and long-time Sena watcher Vivek Bhavsar.

Mr. Bhavsar says the community now views the NCP as primarily a Maratha-dominated party sans any ideology. “Nawab Malik, a tall Muslim leader of the NCP, is still behind bars, while minority leaders of the Congress like Aslam Shaikh and Arif Naseem Khan are largely ineffectual. In this scenario, the Shiv Sena (UBT) with its ‘politics of inclusiveness’ offers an attractive alternative,” he says.

Reposing trust

Evidence of the Muslim community reposing its trust in Mr. Thackeray was seen in his first public rally after losing the party name and symbol in Ratnagiri district’s Khed. Notably, the Marathi Muslim Seva Samiti had made a fervent appeal to Muslims to participate in the rally in large numbers.

Last October, at the party’s annual Dussehra rally in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, Mr. Thackeray had emphasised that Bal Thackeray had reiterated that he accepted everyone who loved the country, even Muslims. “Bal Thackeray said everyone should keep their religion inside their homes and consider India their home once they stepped outside,” Mr. Thackeray had said at the rally.

Around the same time, the party’s mouthpiece, Saamana, had carried a front-page article asserting that ‘Marathi Muslims’ supported the Sena (UBT).

It is estimated that Muslims constitute 15%-16% of the electorate in Mumbai, while the Marathi-speaking voters account for 30% of the city’s population. “The Marathi-speaking population, once the core base of the undivided Sena, will now be split between Mr. Thackeray and Mr. Shinde. Moreover, the BJP retains a strong grip over the north Indian population in Mumbai. If Mr. Thackeray can win over even half of the minority voters, then it is likely that he can give the Shinde-BJP coalition a stiff fight in the polls,” says Mr. Bhavsar.

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