The Indian Express | 1 month ago | 06-10-2022 | 07:45 pm
In the impending winter of political discontent, saffron seems to be the colour of the season in Maharashtra. As Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his yet another loyalist-turned-rebel, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, are locked in a bitter battle over who represents the real Shiv Sena, it is amusing to note that both factions are grappling with the same question: Who moved my Hindutva?Ever since Eknath Shinde, supported by the BJP, pulled the rug from under Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray’s feet, Maharashtra has been witnessing a fierce political battle that, at times, has bordered on absurdity. Vijayadashami rallies organised by both sides were spectacular examples of this farce.It started with a fight over the venue. Shivaji Park, an open space in the otherwise congested central Mumbai, has been a political barometer since pre-independence. A leader is considered worth his clout only if he earns full house at Shivaji Park. Actually, there is nothing that resembles a park. As its name suggests, Shivaji Park ground is the birthplace of the Shiv Sena. Even before that, soon after Independence, it was here that Prabodhankar Thackeray, Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s father, along with many other eminent Maharashtrians, launched the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Movement’ that thwarted the Centre’s plan to give away Mumbai to the state of Gujarat. The Shiv Sena is an extension of the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti’, a body formed to guard the interests of Marathi Manoos.Hence Shivaji Park, laced with this history, is an emotive place for the Sena. Having been a Sena man himself, Eknath Shinde thought of hitting the Sena where it could hurt most. He tried to snatch Shivaji Park away from the Sena by first delaying, and later refusing it permission to hold its Vijayadashami rally. The Sena, however, outsmarted Shinde by applying for permission well in advance and later by challenging the state government’s refusal in the Bombay High Court. The first round went to Uddhav Thackeray.There are two aspects to the Shiv Sena’s strength. First is the Sena supremo’s ability to bring young and lumpen elements under one umbrella to give them some political purpose, and the second is keeping the “teach-them-a-lesson” spirit alive in them. Both these “qualities” were in full display at Shivaji Park.Uddhav is in no way close to his father in vocabulary, vituperation or viciousness. Despite his inability to pepper his speech with the choicest abuse for political opponents, though, the Shivaji Park rally was very lively as compared to Shinde’s maiden public meeting held in the business district of Bandra. In terms of the size of the crowd, Shinde certainly had a better head-count than the Thackerays. But in terms of spirit, Uddhav’s rally stands out. In oratorical skills, if Uddhav is a pale shadow of his father, Shinde is no better. His first attempt to take on the Thackerays can be described as lacklustre at best.Both the rallies underlined the same point — the political narrative revolves around one party: The BJP. It seems almost impossible for any political outfit to bypass or ignore the BJP. As a result, what happened at these two rallies was that even as Uddhav Thackeray was seen trying to take his battle to the BJP, Chief Minister Shinde, instead of marketing himself, was seen defending the BJP.To consolidate his vote bank of Hindus and neo Hindus, the BJP is busy portraying Uddhav as a “sinner”. His sin: Breaking bread with “secular” Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP. In an attempt to turn the tables on the BJP, Uddhav brought in RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat by mentioning his recent visit to a mosque and overtures to Muslims. “Should I say the RSS chief (by visiting a mosque) has compromised his Hindutva?” he asked. The reply came from Shinde who chastised Uddhav for criticising the RSS. Uddhav was keen on sending out a message of how he continues to adore Hindutva even today, and Shinde was seen making special efforts to portray him as “secular”. Of course, the Maharashtra Chief Minister was using “secular” as an accusation.By organising the Vijayadashami rally and attempting to challenge the Sena on its own turf, the Shiv Sena’s Shinde faction may have succeeded in attracting eye-balls. But its first real test will be in the state legislative assembly by-election being held in Andheri (E), one of Mumbai’s suburbs, as early as November 3. The seat fell vacant following the death of a Shiv Sena MLA and before the Shinde faction could lure the departed MLA’s wife as its candidate, the Sena declared her nomination. Since the election symbol issue is yet to be decided, the Shinde faction has let the BJP contest the said by-election. It was impossible that the perennially election-ready BJP would miss the opportunity.But in the end, whatever be the outcome, it will be the Shinde faction that will lose out. If the BJP wins, it will add one more MLA to its kitty. If it loses, it will be the Shinde faction which will be at the receiving end. The November 3 by-election will be followed by the most coveted Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election, the real battleground which the BJP hopes to win and dislodge the Shiv Sena from. The November 3 by-poll outcome will set the tone for the BMC poll which in turn will prepare the ground for the battle royale of the state assembly elections, just two years away.Meanwhile, Maharashtra may end up becoming a land of Hindu heartthrobs (Hriday Samrats). Originally, the title was reserved for Bal Thackeray. Now, staking claim for it is his son Uddhav, and trying to wrest it from Uddhav is his cousin Raj. Add to them new entrant Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, not to mention the BJP’s home-grown Devendra Fadnavis. The list goes on.The writer is editor, Loksatta
A ‘controversial’ real estate developer, Ajay Ashar, known to be one of the closest aides of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and works for him behind the curtains, was appointed as the vice-president of the state planning body MITRA (Maharashtra Institution for Transformation).Ashar has been working with Shinde for more than a decade now. Known in the inner circles of Maharashtra’s power corridors for working alongside Shinde, Ashar was never in the public eye until his appointment in a government body.In October 2022, the Maharashtra state cabinet cleared the decision to form MITRA on the lines of NITI Aayog with the aim to achieve rapid and comprehensive development of the state through the participation of private sector and non-governmental organisations.During the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, Ashar was reportedly on the radar of the central probe agencies but he was neither named in any scam nor was he called for any probe by any agencies. BJP leader Kirit Somaiya in 2020 had even tweeted Ashar’s name terming him as a partner of then CM Uddhav Thackeray. Somaiya did not answer the phone call when contacted for a comment.The state government also appointed former Shiv Sena MLA from Kolhapur Rajesh Kshirsagar, who has switched sides to join hands with Shinde after the split in the party, as the second vice-president of MITRA.Congress general secretary Sachin Sawant questioned the appointment of Ashar reminding how the BJP, when in Opposition, had targeted certain builders, including Ashar. “When in Opposition, MVA was accused of waiving off premium on certain real estate projects for benefitting a few builders. Now, those builders are being given responsibilities of planning for Maharashtra. Moreover, how fair it is to hand over planning of the state into the hands of a builder?” he said.Meanwhile, Ashar was unavailable for a comment.
The Bombay High Court was informed on Friday that closure reports had been filed on two FIRs lodged against Maharashtra BJP MLA Ganesh Naik for allegedly threatening and raping a woman, who claimed that he was her son’s biological father. The court then directed the magistrate to dispose of the proceedings within three months.The prosecution submitted that it could not find substance in the allegations against the Airoli MLA. Additional public prosecutor Prajakta P Shinde told the court that in both the matters, A-summary reports were filed by the Navi Mumbai police in July and September, after the Shinde Sena-BJP government replaced the MVA government in the state.An A-summary report on a case is submitted to a magistrate when there is no clue about culprits, or when the accused is known but there is no evidence to justify his being sent to the magistrate for trial.A bench of Justices Revati Mohite-Dere and R N Laddha was hearing Naik’s plea seeking the quashing of the FIRs registered against him at the CBD Belapur police station. He was booked in April after the woman lodged a complaint that she was in a live-in relationship with Naik and that in 2021, he had threatened her with a firearm if she disclosed their relationship to anyone.The woman said she became pregnant with Naik’s child in 2006 and went to New Jersey in the US to give birth. However, despite assuring her that he would accept the child and stay with them, Naik did not do so, she alleged.According to the woman, Naik called her to his office for lunch. When she asked if he would give his name to the child, Naik allegedly pulled out his revolver and told her not to “harass” him or else, he would kill them and end his life. She said she did not file a police complaint back then as Naik was a minister and an influential politician.Senior advocate Ashok Mundargi, appearing for Naik, submitted that the “two cases have a political angle to them and there is a general tendency that cases connected to political personalities are deliberately kept pending”.In such cases, Mundargi argued, despite A-summary reports being filed before the magistrate and the complainant being issued a notice, nothing further happens. He therefore urged the court to direct the magistrate to expeditiously dispose of the matters.A single- judge bench of Justice Anuja Prabhudessai, which granted anticipatory bail to Naik on May 4, had noted that the woman’s statement had indicated that she and Naik were in a relationship from 1995 to 2017. She said that as her family did not approve of their relationship, she got married to someone else. According to her, she divorced him in 2001 and continued the relationship with Naik.Justice Prabhudessai observed that the relationship between Naik and the woman was consensual and that prima facie essential ingredients of rape were not made out and therefore his custodial interrogation was not required.
The Maharashtra government has decided to provide 12 hours of uninterrupted electricity to farmers for agricultural pumps in five districts in the Vidarbha region, officials said. The demand for increased electricity for agricultural pumps came from paddy-growing districts such as Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Bhandara, Gondia and Nagpur. Farmers cultivating paddy were facing hardships due to the short supply of electricity.Senior BJP minister for forests Sudhir Mungantiwar, who hails from Chandrapur, raised the issue with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis two days ago. During the discussions, Mungantiwar apprised the two leaders of the problems faced by paddy farmers in the five Vidarbha districts. Reduced power supply meant that farmers in these districts were forced to do farming activities during the night when the electricity supply was more steady. However, it also made them prone to attacks from animals, officials added. After considering the farmers’ plight, the state government directed the energy department to increase supply from eight hours to 12 hours to farmers using agriculture pumps in five eastern Vidarbha districts. In its order, the government has also stated that instead of night, farmers should be provided electricity during the day.
Mangal Prabhat Lodha is a quiet man. At the BJP headquarters here, his colleagues say that the Cabinet minister operates silently — not flaunting his power and always speaking to a select group of people. The image of quiet efficiency is quite different to the public persona of a firebrand Hindutva votary and this combination helped the former Mumbai BJP chief become a member of the Eknath Shinde-led government. At present, he holds the portfolios of tourism, and women and child development.On Wednesday, Lodha lit a political firestorm by comparing 17th-century warrior Shivaji’s historic escape from the Mughal court in Agra with Shinde’s defection from the Shiv Sena that led to the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in June. The comments came at a time the BJP was looking to move past the row Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had triggered two weeks ago by calling Shivaji an icon of olden times. Koshyari’s remarks put the BJP on the defensive and it spent the subsequent days parrying the Opposition’s attacks, but the optics surrounding the Lodha episode is worse as the comments came at an event that the CM attended.Shinde, along with his Cabinet ministers, were in Satara on Wednesday to celebrate 363rd Pratapgad Din, the state government’s annual celebration of Shivaji’s assassination of Afzal Khan, a commander of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur, at the foothills of Pratapgad Fort. “Shivaji Maharaj who was held hostage escaped from Agra by dodging Mughal emperor Aurangzeb … Shivaji escaped from Agra for swarajya (independence) Similarly, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde was also confined by somebody. But Shinde also came out from confinement in the larger interest of Maharashtra …”Amid backlash from the Opposition, the BJP left Lodha to deal with the fallout and none of its top leaders defended him publicly. Party insiders said the leadership had categorically told everyone to exercise caution while speaking on historical events or people. The BJP has now chosen once again to distance itself from the row and allow it to fizzle out. A senior BJP general secretary said on the condition of anonymity, “Sometimes, it is better to remain silent when some reaction boomerangs against our party and leaders.”Shinde, however, appeared to back his minister even as he underlined that nobody could be compared to Shivaji. Trying to defuse the tension, the CM said, “Lodha has allocated Rs 25 crore for Pratapgad Fort. Shivaji Maharaj is deeply revered and worshipped by one and all. Shivaji cannot be compared to anybody.”Aware that he had slipped up, Lodha attempted damage control by explaining he had never meant to insult Shivaji. Late Wednesday evening, the minister said, “I have not done anything wrong and did not insult Shivaji. I deeply respect Shivaji Maharaj. I was just citing some examples which have been wrongly interpreted. We often give Shivaji’s examples to children. It does not mean we are comparing them or insulting Shivaji.”Son of former Guwahati HC CJILodha, who is one of the richest state ministers with declared assets worth Rs 441.65 crore, is from Rajasthan. He arrived in Mumbai in the 1980s after completing his BCom and LLB degrees from the University of Jodhpur. His father Guman Lal Lodha was the chief justice of the Guwahati High Court. After initially practising law, Lodha ventured into real estate and founded Macrotech Developers (Lodha Group).Since his student days, Lodha was associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He made his debut in electoral politics in 1995, when he contested the Assembly elections for the first time. At present, he is a six-term MLA from the high-profile Malabar Hills constituency in Mumbai.The minister has often used the public forum at his disposal to speak about issues such as cattle slaughter and undocumented immigrants. He has spoken about the alleged threat Hindus face in the Muslim-dominated Malvani area of Mumbai.During a state Assembly debate last year, Lodha said, “There is a pattern to this Hindu exodus. They are being threatened and intimidated to leave their houses. A concerted attempt is being made to evict them. Just like Kashmir, Kairana witnessed the exodus of Hindus. Malvani in Mumbai is also witnessing the same.”On cow slaughter, he has said in the past, “There should be capital punishment for killers of cows and cattle. Cow slaughter should be punishable by death and beef export should be banned.”During campaigning for the 2019 Assembly polls, the Election Commission served Lodha with a show-cause notice for making a communal statement. While campaigning in Mumbadevi, the BJP leader said, “The explosives used in the 1992 Mumbai riots were made in bylanes five km from here.” The Mumbadevi neighbourhood has a sizable Muslim population.
Visit one temple and they may question your religious credentials, visit several, and it might cease being an issue. As part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been making high-visibility halts at shrines, particularly temples, appearing with vermillion on his forehead often, putting out pictures bowing to deities, posting videos of interactions with priests and, in an icing on the cake, sharing a photo that shows him prone in sashtang pranam at the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain.The Ujjain temple incidentally is one of the prominent shrines developed, and celebrated, under the BJP rule in the state and Centre. Just over a month ago, a Mahakal Temple Corridor was unveiled with much fanfare in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.आज उज्जैन में, शिप्रा नदी के तट पर बसे ज्योतिर्लिंग, भगवान महाकालेश्वर की आराधना करने का सौभाग्य प्राप्त हुआ।जय महाकाल। pic.twitter.com/DMtKRyjFkS— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 29, 2022The BJP has kept up its attacks on Rahul for the temple run. On Thursday, Madhya Pradesh Culture Minister Usha Thakur said: “My humble prayer is that no spiritual activity should be made a medium for political gains. These activities are an integral part of our life. You go to temples, it is welcome, but you should also understand the importance of offering prayers and darshan of the deity.”Campaigning in Ahmedabad’s Vasna for the Gujarat polls, Union Minister Smriti Irani said: “They (the Congress) are now reminded of the Hindu dharma because they are losing elections and understand that if they humiliate dharma and Hindus, they will not get a single vote from (people of) this religion.”Unlike this election, when Rahul has made just one visit so far to campaign for the Gujarat elections – in a break from his Bharat Jodo Yatra – the Congress leader had canvassed extensively in the 2017 polls, including making a series of temple visits in the state. The BJP had mocked Rahul then too, though that election saw the Congress give the ruling party a scare.Accusing Rahul of “putting up a pretence to prove his Hindu lineage”, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted: “Rahul Gandhi is as much a Hindu as Arvind Kejriwal is honest… Make no mistake, this is just a tactical retreat, with electoral compulsions in mind, nothing else.”Sharing a video of Rahul performing aarti at Omkareshwar temple in MP, Malviya said: “If only ‘chunavi Hindu’ Rahul Gandhi knew that aarti is done clockwise and there is a scientific reason for it (earth moves in a clockwise direction and hence environmental frequencies are in sync with movement), he would not be making a spectacle of himself in public like this.”(Viewed from the North Pole, the Earth actually moves in a counterclockwise direction; from the South Pole, it appears to rotate clockwise.)Rahul Gandhi, son of a Catholic mother and a Parsi father, should stop this fancy dress drama in Hindi heartland.When in Kerala or TN, he never bothered to visit a single Hindu temple. Visited minority religious places though.His beliefs change depending on electoral maths… pic.twitter.com/zj0Gh2PZkW— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) December 2, 2022After his visit to the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain Tuesday, Rahul accused the BJP government of disrespecting “workers, farmers and small businessmen — the real ‘tapasvis’ akin to Hindu gods Shiva, Rama and Krishna”.Vermillion on his forehead, Rahul peppered his speech with references about Hindu gods and the Bhagawad Gita. “The Hindu religion teaches us to worship ‘tapasvis’… so why are they not worshipped?… The government does not give them anything, it gives everything to those who do puja of Narendra Modi,” he said. “Those who worship Modi, they get everything they want, railways, ports, airports, roads, power, water… everything.”The Omkareshwar and Mahakaleshwar temples are among the 12 Jyotirlinga sites in India, associated with Lord Shiva.हिंदुस्तान हमेशा से तपस्वियों का देश रहा है। आज, प्रधानमंत्री करोड़ों हिंदुस्तानियों की तपस्या का अपमान कर रहे हैं। pic.twitter.com/urn3poFciu— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 29, 2022In October, during the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s Karnataka leg, Rahul reached out to members of all three main faiths — Hindu, Muslim and Christian — in Mysuru by visiting the Chamundeshwari Temple atop the Chamundi Hills, the Masjid-e-Azam and the St Philomena’s Cathedral on the same day.Sharing pictures of the temple on Twitter, Rahul said: “Religious harmony is the foundation of India’s peaceful and progressive future.” The Bharat Jodo Yatra’s stated aim is to unite the country against “hate” and “discord”.A day later, he visited a prominent mutt of the Lingayat community, the most powerful voting group in Karnataka.Entering Maharashtra on November 9 from Telangana, Rahul paid a visit to the Nanded Sahib gurdwara, one of Sikhism’s holiest shrines, on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti. On its official Twitter page, the Congress shared a video of Rahul praying wearing a headscarf with the Khanda symbol and someone wrapping a Dastar around his head. He prayed for harmony and equality, the party said.In September, soon after he had taken off from Tamil Nadu, Rahul met controversial Tamil pastor George Ponnaiah. After videos of their meeting emerged, the BJP attacked Rahul.