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OPINION | Uddhav's Ayodhya Visit Aims to Muscle Out BJP's Hindutva Claims, As Sena Looks to Outshine Big Brother

Udhhav Thackeray’s party has repeatedly questioned the BJP’s commitment in building the Ram Temple.

Venkatesh Kesari |

Updated:November 5, 2018, 9:00 AM IST
OPINION | Uddhav's Ayodhya Visit Aims to Muscle Out BJP's Hindutva Claims, As Sena Looks to Outshine Big Brother
File photo of Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, repercussions of the Ayodhya issue could be far and wide. Especially for the BJP with its most vociferous critic and ally Shiv Sena upping the ante.

Udhhav Thackeray’s party has repeatedly questioned the BJP’s commitment in building the Ram Temple. In the process, the Sena plans to prepare to project itself as the true Hindu party vis-a-vis BJP which has led a full majority government at the Centre for more than four years now.

A sulking Sena could use the Ram temple card to confuse Hindutva voters and thereby weaken or confuse the BJP’s core vote bank.

Despite being in alliance with the BJP, both at the centre and in Maharashtra, the Sena has made no bones about its differences with the Modi-Shah led BJP.

In fact, the Sena has started its Lok Sabha campaign by virtually proclaiming that it has the first right on the Hindutva vote bank. Uddhav Thackeray will soon become the first leader of the Shiv Sena to visit the disputed site in Ayodhya on November 25.

Thackeray has already announced that his party will go solo in the Lok Sabha polls scheduled in five months and the Maharashtra Assembly polls which will take place in October next.

The Sena announcement has been downplayed by the BJP whose state leaders have been asked by the party high command against publically making statements against Thackeray and his partymen.

The BJP is confident that the ‘Tiger’ will not bite but only roar. The BJP’s assessment is that growing pressure from party MPs and MLAs would force the Sena to continue being part of the BJP-led NDA at the Centre and in Maharashtra in the backdrop of plans of Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP joining hands.

But Uddhav Thackeray knows that a tactical retreat could spell doom for the Shiv Sena, which has attracted youth, lower middle class in urban areas and the OBCs, besides the Marathi Manoos.

“The BJP cannot be trusted. It wants an alliance in the Lok Sabha elections but will break it during the Maharashtra Assembly polls,” said a Sena leader.

Uddhav Thackeray also realises that his party’s Ayodhya card could only work in Maharashtra as its brand of hard Hindutva has no takers outside. The Shiv Sena is miffed because the BJP did not give any space to its long-time ideological ally outside Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena had fought Assembly elections against the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and other states in the last 28 years but that did not help it electorally and politically.

Maharashtra is a crucial state for the BJP. Its pre-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena in at least the Lok Sabha elections will be a value addition at a time when the BJP is unsure of getting numbers in major states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Karnataka due to political realignments like the coming together of the Samajwadi Party-BSP-RLD in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka and the anti- incumbency factor.

The Shiv Sena understands well that the BJP is not as strong as it was in 2014. It needs allies more than allies need it. Narendra Modi, Amit Shah have become flexible in Bihar and are relying more on chief minister Nitish Kumar (JD-U), Ram Vilas Pawan (LJP) because of the re-emergence of the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD.

And that is why Uddhav Thackeray is trying to get electoral mileage of the BJP’s flip flop on Ayodhya in Maharashtra. Yes, building the Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya is the core issue for the BJP, but practically it has never been on its priority list after coming to power.

Late Atal Behari Vajpayee could not take the issue to its logical conclusion during his prime ministership (1998 to 2004) because of his government’s dependence on regional partners who are divided on it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too could not take it up in the last four and a half years despite having the absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

Uddhav is embarking on the Ayodhya march after much churning in his party with a section aggressively pitching for parting ways with the BJP once and for all. This section feels that the BJP which once boasted that it would rule the country for decades to come is already feeling exhausted.

The Sena leadership is keenly watching the Assembly polls in five states especially those in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where the outcome would be known on December 11 and show which way the political winds are blowing. Thackeray’s visit to Ayodhya, a fortnight earlier, is therefore timed accordingly.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)

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