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Shiv Sena attempts to whitewash anti-Gujarati criticism by party mouthpiece Saamna

Monday, 5 May 2014 - 8:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

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Choosing to rub it in even after Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray washed his hands off an editorial in the party organ Saamna attacking the Gujarati community, the newspaper front-paged a statement by Yuva Sena chief and Uddhav's son Aaditya claiming that the editorial's meaning was "completely misconstrued and twisted" by some in the media with "wrong translations."

Attempting to soothe frayed sentiments among Gujaratis before the state assembly polls due a few months from now, the Sena mouthpiece on Sunday referred to Aaditya's tweets on micro-blogging site Twitter but claimed that however, the Sena scion had stood by the editorial. Incidentally, Saamna carried the statement, four days after Aaditya's tweet on May 1.

Sena sources said moves by Uddhav, who is abroad, to distance himself from the editorial may be a snub to Saamna editor Sanjay Raut, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP. Incidentally, after the Sena's debacle in the 2009 assembly polls, a Saamna editorial had claimed that Maharashtrians—the [party's core voters---had backstabbed it. 

However, Sena supremo, late Bal Thackeray, who was the newspaper's editor, distanced himself from the comment in a party meeting, reportedly leaving Raut fumbling for explanations. In the tweet, Aaditya claimed the editorial had not lashed out at anyone and sought to convey that Marathi and Gujarati leaders needed to unite for the progress of the state and these communities.

In a fresh tweet on Sunday, Aaditya called this an "unnecessary controversy" and "an attempt to sabotage the bond between (the) Shiv Sena and Gujarati community..." Referring to Uddhav's statement, he said the Sena made "no difference between us and the Gujarati community of Mumbai and neither endorse such views by anyone as being those of the official party (sic) or leadership." Disowning the editorial, Aaditya, claimed Gujaratis were close to the heart of the late Sena chief.

The Maharashtra Day editorial had lambasted Gujaratis and other trading communities which have rallied behind Gujarat chief minister and the NDA's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, accusing them of exploiting Mumbai for wealth and raised questions over their sense of belonging to Mumbai and Maharashtra. Sena sources said this whitewash indicated that the party leadership was alarmed at the Gujaratis voting against it in the coming assembly polls.

They pointed out that Mumbai had undergone a demographic transformation with the Marathi manoos being reduced to a minority and pushed to the far-flung suburbs due to an overheated real-estate market. "Maharashtrian votes are divided between the Shiv Sena and the MNS while North Indians view the Sena and the MNS with suspicion. Alienating Gujaratis, who are largely BJP supporters will hurt us," said a Sena source, adding that the Sena had been trying to win assembly seats in areas with a significant Gujarati voters. Sena and BJP sources said lower and middle-class Gujaratis, who share living spaces with Maharashtrians in chawls and slums and culturally interact with them, may have voted for the Shiv Sena in the Lok Sabha polls in Mumbai to support Modi.

Incidentally, the Shiv Sena, which was formed in 1966 to espouse the sons of soil issue, switched to hardline Hindutva in the 1980s to expand geographically and politically. "The editorial may have said right things at the wrong time... this may lead to Gujarati voters going against us," said a Sena source, while admitting to unease between the Shiv Sena's core voters and the Gujarati community in Mumbai over cultural assertion.

That the BJP--the Sena's junior partner in Maharashtra--has been seeking to assert itself over a post-Bal Thackeray Shiv Sena, especially after Modi's rise on the national stage, has not helped matter. Though Sainiks vent their spleen against "vegetarian" buildings in Mumbai's traditional Maharashtrian areas where meat eaters like Maharashtrians cannot buy a house and calls to shift out meat and fish shops from the vicinity, others admit that the Sena, which controls the BMC and many of whose leaders have stakes in the construction industry, may not be above board.

The Sena's critics also point out that the party, despite its pre-eminence in Mumbai's politics, has been unable to create an entrepreneurial spirit among Maharashtrians. Sane voices stress on the need to move beyond cultural stereotypes and entrenched positions.

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