Up to its old bullying tactics

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:27 pm IST

Published - August 03, 2014 12:34 am IST

Shiv Sena MP forcing a Muslim staff in Maharashtra Sadan, New Delhi, to eat 'roti'.

Shiv Sena MP forcing a Muslim staff in Maharashtra Sadan, New Delhi, to eat 'roti'.

Fifteen years have passed since a group of Shiv Sainiks scaled the walls of the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground in New Delhi and vandalised its cricket pitch to stop the Pakistan team from playing.

Notwithstanding the outrage, Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, writing in the party mouthpiece Saamna , described the act as one of “true patriotism”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which was in power at the Centre then, did not aggressively condemn the acts of its ally. Party spokesperson J.P. Mathur described the incident as just “a prank”.

It was perhaps characteristic of the Sena modus operandi , goes a news report, “that the digging up … was achieved with tacit official support. Journalists were informed in advance of the party cadre’s plan.”

Politics has come full circle in the country since and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is back in power. The Sena is now headed by Balasaheb’s son Uddhav. Though this time, it was only a fight for better food in a canteen, is it only coincidence that the Sena has chosen the NDA rule to lead once again a crusade in the national capital?

Thane MP Rajan Vichare >was caught on camera thrusting a chapatti into the mouth of Arshad Zubair, an catering supervisor with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, which runs the canteen at New Maharashtra Sadan. Since Mr. Zubair was fasting for Ramzan, the MPs were blamed for hurting religious sentiments. Naturally, the media and other parties played upon the communal twist, which led to an uproar in Parliament.

Mr. Vichare, whose act was flashed on television channels, defended himself with a series of bizarre statements, the most reasonable of which was that he was not aware of Mr. Zubair’s religion or caste.

Mr. Uddhav Thackeray went a step further, saying in the Saamna that “it wasn’t written on his [Mr. Zubair’s] forehead which religion or region he belongs to” and there was no intention to hurt religious sentiments. But Mr. Zubair was seen in the footage repeatedly pleading with, and reminding, Mr. Vichare that he was fasting.

But would the Thane MP, who faces multiple criminal charges, have stopped even if he had known that?

The Sena makes a living out of intimidating, and creating fear among, minorities and North Indian migrants. Even so, this case cannot serve as the best instance to illustrate its anti-Muslim bias. It speaks more of the Sena’s working culture of threatening those who it dislikes.

Mr. Zubair just happened to be Muslim and it just happened to be Ramzan. Even the staunchest detractors of the Sena will grant Mr. Vichare the benefit of the doubt.

But it was not just a case of one MP’s hooliganism. The Sadan manager’s complaint says the MPs also issued “physical threats” to the staff and used highly objectionable language.

The Saamna , >however, chose to call it an “agitation not hooliganism” . In the Sena’s own script, Mr. Vichare was a brave soldier who fought valiantly against the pathetic treatment of Marathi lawmakers in the heart of North India. “Until someone tries to show off his or her religion unnecessarily, we have nothing to do with that person’s religion,” the Saamna said while blaming the media and the opposition parties for giving the incident a communal colour.

Though it would be harsh to conclude that Mr. Vichare meant to hurt the religious sentiments of the caterer, his party’s stance and hesitancy to apologise have left it bare-faced and exposed its hard-line Hindutva fabric.

Cornered yet unabashed by his party men’s conduct, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray said an “unnecessary uproar” was created over the incident. He even made unrelated references to Muslims committing crime elsewhere.

>The Sena’s acts should have embarrassed the BJP, which is trying to present an “inclusive” picture of itself.

But its top leadership has been cautious about what it says and hardly censured its ally’s lumpen behaviour, perhaps because elections are due in Maharashtra.

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