Grappling with the row over the use of loudspeakers at religious places, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government’s recent decision to put the ball to the Centre’s court has again brought the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition’s inherent contradictions and compulsions to the fore.
Going after the MVA government over the controversy, the principal Opposition BJP has asked why it was “reluctant” to enforce the Supreme Court’s 2005 directives on the loudspeaker issue in the state.
Sparking the row, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)’s chief Raj Thackeray has given an ultimatum to the Uddhav government to removr loudspeakers from places of worship, especially mosques, in the state before May 3, warning that otherwise the MNS activists will take to the streets and read out Hanuman Chalisa outside the mosques.
Reeling under the mosque loudspeakers-Hanuman Chalisa episode, the MVA government seems to be struggling to display a decisive political will to resolve the matter, with each MVA ally – the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress – appearing to safeguard their own political stakes.
Seeking to play safe, the Uddhav government, after an all-party meeting it convened in Mumbai on April 25 to discuss and evolve a consensus on the issue, asked the BJP-ruled Centre to come up with a law and rules for the use of loudspeakers at religious places across the country in light of the apex court’s 2005 guidelines. It also said that a government delegation will go to New Delhi to meet the Centre’s representatives to place this demand.
Significantly, amid growing uneasiness in a Sena section on the mosque loudspeaker issue that the party considers its original issue as part of its Hindutva agenda sidelined due to the coalition compulsion, Uddhav was not present at the all-party meeting. The Leader of Opposition, Devendra Fadnavis, and Raj Thackeray also skipped the meeting.
Fadnavis said, “The Supreme Court has given clear directives on the use of loudspeakers in places of worship in 2005. The use of loudspeakers is banned between 10 pm and 6 am. The issue here is to ensure these orders are implemented effectively.”
He also said, “After the court directives the Navratri festival has seen strict adherence of deadline during garbha celebrations and jagrans.
Even the Ganesh processions are adhering to deadlines. Why should others not follow the orders?” If there are violations of court orders it is the state government’s duty to exercise its authority and get it enforced, he said, charging that “unfortunately, the state home ministry itself has become a mute spectator”.
On his part, home minister Dilip Walse-Patil said, “While we believe the Supreme Court guidelines should be adhered to, there is no provision for the state government to either instal or remove the loudspeakers. All those who have instaled loudspeakers and use it should be mindful of the court regulations.”
The Sena and the NCP have been stressing on a national policy for the use of loudspeakers in religious places. As Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, “ Let the Centre come out with a national policy for it.”
Explaining their position, an NCP functionary said, “We have taken a cautious approach to this sensitive matter. We don’t want to antagonise
Muslims. The right wing BJP, MNS are clearly targeting the mosque loudspeakers.”
However, the Maharashtra BJP leaders rapped the MVA for “dragging” the Centre into every contentious matter surrounding the state government.
Madhav Bhandari, state BJP vice-president, said, “Will the MVA government implement the SC order on loudspeaker ban or not?” The SC has given a clear order in the matter, which is mandatory for every state across the country, he added.
In its July 2005 order, the apex court had imposed a ban on the use of loudspeakers and music systems between 10 pm and 6 am, making the exception in cases of emergencies at public places. These norms are to be relaxed only for 15 days in a year during festivals.
Responding to various PILs over loudspeakers, the Bombay High Court had in 2016 observed that its use was not a fundamental right. “All places of religion are bound by noise pollution rules. No religion or sect can claim fundamental right for using loudspeakers or public address systems. All places of religion should compulsorily follow noise pollution rules,” it had said.
Attacking the MVA government, Bhandari said, “Walse-Patil has however taken an escapist route. He has clearly indicated that the state government will not act, thus indirectly giving a free hand to all those violating the court orders.”
Explaining Uddhav’s bid to skip the all-party meeting, a Shiv Sena leader said, “In the past Shiv Sena was in the forefront opposing use of loudspeakers in mosques. It is no secret that vitriolic statements were made on the subject. Now, Shiv Sena is leading the coalition which is bound by common minimum agenda which disallows any controversial or communal agenda.”
The Sena leader said, “In principle our die-hard sainiks are well versed with the party’s ideological stand. But if the CM were present at the meeting he would have to state our stand. So, on sensitive matters the Sena has given the task of doing the talking to its second-rung leaders.”
In the context of the loudspeakers-Hanuman Chalisa row, a BJP functionary said, “MNS and independent members like Ravi Rana (MLA) and Navneet Rana (MP) are helping in keeping the Hindutva issue on the boil. They are raising pertinent questions causing discomfort to the ruling Shiv Sena,” adding that “We are however not just banking on these smaller parties or Independents to consolidate our electoral base in Mumbai knowing their
With Raj Thackeray upping the ante, there have been concerns within the Sena about the MNS’s bid to use the row to consolidate its political base ahead of the upcoming BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) polls.
Meanwhile, taking another jibe at the Uddhav government, Raj on Thursday lauded the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government’s move to remove loudspeakers from religious places in UP, charging that “Unfortunately in Maharashtra we don’t have any ‘yogis’; what we have are ‘bhogis’ (hedonists). Here’s hoping and praying good sense prevails”.