Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar on Wednesday chastised Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray for his recent speech demanding the removal of loudspeakers from mosques. Making divisive speeches merely to secure political mileage was unacceptable in a Maharashtra formed on the bedrock of “Shahu, Phule and Ambedkar’s progressive ideals”, he said.
Speaking in Shirdi in Ahmednagar district, Mr. Pawar criticised the MNS chief’s speech delivered at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park last week delivered on the occasion of Gudi Padwa (Marathi New Year), commenting that Mr. Thackeray’s exhortations to his party workers to ‘combat’ the ‘azaan’ with Hanuman Chalisa was not accepted even by some MNS leaders.
“Making inflammatory speeches of this kind will not solve people’s problems. Despite ordinary people living in harmony, some leaders are deliberately trying to disrupt the peace…even his [Raj Thackeray’s] own corporators are raising objections at this speech and are saying that such statements will hamper their chances of winning the civic polls,” Mr. Pawar stated.
Maharashtra Home Minister and senior NCP leader Dilip Walse-Patil, who recently halted his own speech at an event during the ‘azaan’, observed that Mr. Thackeray’s speech would merely heighten social tensions.
In his April 2 speech, Mr. Thackeray, advocating a hard ‘Hindutva’ line, demanded the ruling tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist and the Congress to remove loudspeakers before mosques; else his party workers would do so by force and play the Hanuman Chalisa in their stead.
However, his speech has met with distinctly mixed reactions by his partymen. A number of MNS leaders have refused to implement it for fear of alienating their Muslim voters.
While the MNS’ Pune city president Vasant More has reportedly refused to play Hanuman Chalisa in front of the mosques in his ward, two local MNS Muslim leaders from the city have apparently submitted their resignations following Mr. Thackeray’s speech.
‘Tilting towards BJP’
NCP Minister Chhagan Bhujbal claimed that Mr. Raj Thackeray “changed track” and started tilting towards the BJP after the Enforcement Directorate, which has been after the MVA leadership for the past several months, had grilled the MNS chief in 2019 in a money laundering case.
While his party did not contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Mr. Thackeray had spiritedly campaigned for the Congress and the NCP against the BJP.
The campaign, despite drawing large crowds, flopped as the then alliance of the BJP and the Shiv Sena won with huge margins in the very constituencies the MNS chief had held his rallies.
In the 2019 Assembly elections held in October that year, Mr. Thackeray finally entered the poll arena and contested in 100 seats, winning only one (Kalyan Rural).
However, since then, the MNS has changed its ideological direction by veering towards Hindutva politics, signalled by its adoption of a saffron flag incorporating Chhatrapati Shivaji’s royal seal or ‘Rajmudra’ in 2020.
Mr. Raj Thackeray’s party has inched ever closer to the BJP in an attempt to seize the Hindutva space from the Shiv Sena following the latter’s alliance with the NCP and the Congress.