The Shiv Sena that swears by Marathi Manoos and Marathi language on Saturday put forward an uncharacteristic demand. Sena MP Sanjay Raut asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah to take up the challenge of enforcing Hindu as a language across the country, adding: “Hindi is the only language which has acceptability and is spoken in the entire country.”
Raut’s immediate provocation was a statement by Tamil Nadu Education Minister K Ponmudy dismissing the need for Hindi, saying those who spoke it in the state were paani-puri sellers. However, the MP and Shiv Sena’s chief spokesperson clearly had his eyes much closer home.
Raut’s remarks were in tune with the Sena’s calculated overreach towards North Indians ahead of the crucial elections to the Brinhanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The party that has long controlled the cash-rich civic body is anticipating a tough challenge following the parting of ways with the BJP.
Present in sizeable numbers in Mumbai, and set to play a decisive role directly or indirectly in almost 100 of the total 227 wards in the BMC, North Indians can no longer be a whipping board for any party seeking to win the corporation. Having been at the receiving end of the Sena earlier, they have veered towards the Congress and BJP.
The 2017 corporation poll results showed that the BJP was inching up on the Sena even in the BMC. The two had fought separately at the time, although in coalition in the state government. The Sena had won 84 seats, the BJP 82.
The Sena hence realises that Marathi pride alone can’t help it keep off the BJP. Under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray, the party has been assiduously trying to shed its image of being anti-outsider. Said a senior Sena leader, requesting anonymity, “The party realises it has to grow beyond Maharashtra and Marathi. Its outreach plan to win North Indians is part of its expansion plan.”
The other factor behind the Sena trying to broadbase its appeal is the MNS, led by Raj Thackeray, which has positioned itself as the more aggressive proponent of Marathi pride.
The Sena leader admitted that muscle-flexing by the MNS would earlier see the Sena counter by orchestrating campaigns around issues such as remaining of roads, Marathi on nameplates and railway job recruitment etc.
However, the Sena clearly realises that there is only up to a point that it can go down the road. Hence the course correction.