BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, made news last week after he demanded an apology from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray on his pejorative comments on north Indians settled in Maharashtra, stating clearly that the latter would only be allowed to visit the Ram Temple site in Ayodhya once the apology was tendered.
The comment went unremarked in BJP circles, a tacit approval in fact, and a clear sign that while the BJP found MNS leader Raj Thackeray useful in terms of exposing the ideological fault lines between the Shiv Sena and its allies in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Indian National Congress, via the Hanuman Chalisa controversy, it was ambiguous with regard to electoral partnership with the MNS for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls.
According to senior BJP leaders in Delhi, the Hanuman Chalisa/loudspeaker controversy, where Mr. Thackeray and his party demanded removal of loudspeakers from mosques, failing which his party workers would recite the Hanuman Chalisa as loudly, has had a mixed response.
“The actions of Mr. Raj Thackeray are interesting in that they help exploit the ideological fault lines within the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government constituents, but the campaign itself has fizzled out and therefore Mr. Raj Thackeray’s own political heft remains a question mark,” said a source.
The Shiv Sena, which was the BJP’s only ally based on a common Hindutva ideology and had claimed openly that its cadre had been part of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, is now with the NCP and the Congress, a fact that has curbed much of its openly Hindutva rhetoric. Mr. Raj Thackeray’s gambit was to expose this fault line and give an outlet to traditional Sena supporters not comfortable with the new avatar of the party. The campaign over removal of loudspeakers, however, did not take off as expected with many of MNS cadre, working men and women keeping away as the State police promised strict action. “Most of the cadre come from working class backgrounds, and currently, even for gig economy jobs police verification etc is important, if cases, even for small matters are filed, then it comes in the way of employment,” said a source.
The BJP’s ambiguity towards Mr. Raj Thackeray is also evident through a series of tweets by Nitesh Rane, son of Union Minister Narayan Rane, who termed “loudspeakers” a peripheral issue to Hindutva, while asking for focus on Raza Academy and other such institutions. Again, Mr. Rane was not pulled up or reacted to in any way.
In the midst of the cacophony over loudspeakers, Hanuman Chalisa and Azaan is the glittering prize of the BMC, India’s richest municipal body. Polls for the BMC, due later this year, have had a big effect on politics in the State — the BMC, usually controlled by the Shiv Sena, even when it was aligned with the BJP in the past, is a prize everyone is eyeing, if not the whole of it then to get a piece of the pie. The BJP on its part, having parted ways with long time ally Shiv Sena, is still very much on the fence whether it is in the mood to accommodate the other Thackeray cousin.