With the Kangana Ranaut row, the Shiv Sena is reestablishing its old patterns of aggression

The message is simple: don’t mess with Mumbai.

WrittenBy:Prateek Goyal
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“People are talking about vendetta politics. In Maharashtra, the people will not tolerate such politics at all. They will reject those who practise it.”

With the recent row over the demolition of actor Kangana Ranaut’s office in Mumbai, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s declaration during a rally last year might come back to haunt him. Despite Thackeray’s mild-mannered image, his party, the Shiv Sena, has a violent history of attacking journalists, activists, and citizens for criticising its leadership or work — even though the party is in alliance with the less aggressive Congress and Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra.

Its most recent move — the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s demolition of “illegal alterations” at Kangana Ranaut’s office in Mumbai’s Pali Hill — faced heat on social media and across party lines.

Even NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the demolition “raises doubts in people’s minds”, suggesting cracks in the Sena-NCP alliance. Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam called it “an act of vengeance”, though the party is reportedly trying to distance itself from the entire affair.

But what led to the face-off in the first place?

The Ranaut row

Last week, a war of words broke out between Ranaut and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut. Ranaut, who has been vocal about the ongoing investigation into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, had said she feared the Mumbai police. Raut criticised Ranaut in Saamna, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, suggesting that she not return to Mumbai if she feels unsafe. Predictably, Ranaut hit back, saying Mumbai felt like “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”.

Raut promptly called Ranaut “haramkhor ladki”, among other things, and Ranaut replied that she would be returning to Mumbai on September 9 and challenged that she be prevented from doing so.

Meanwhile, Shiv Sena MLAs Pratap Sarnaik and Suresh Prabhu demanded in the state Assembly that Ranaut be administered a drug test, after an old interview surfaced of actor Adhyayan Suman claiming that Ranaut took drugs. Home minister Anil Deshmukh agreed, and issued an order.

As this unfolded, the central government waded in and provided Ranaut with Y-plus security, tasking 11 Central Reserve Police Force commandos to protect her. In response, the Shiv Sena, in a Saamna editorial, accused the Bharatiya Janata Party government of “conspiring to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra by defaming and damaging Mumbai and weakening its economy”.

All this culminated in JCB machines partially demolishing Ranaut’s office on September 9. Ranaut filed a plea in the Mumbai High Court, which stopped the demolition, saying it “prima facie does not appear to be bonafide and smacks of malafide”. The BMC said its actions were “justified”, and the matter has been adjourned until September 22.

Importantly for the Shiv Sena, the entire debacle has spotlighted the party’s “immature” responses to criticism.

Yesterday, for example, the party issued a diktat to cable operators across Maharashtra to stop the broadcast of Republic Bharat. The letter was written by the “Shiv Cable Sena”, which has Sanjay Raut as its mentor, and accused Republic’s Arnab Goswami of “violating the rules of the Indian Constitution as well as the ethics of journalism, and running a parallel judicial system”.

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“As per the Constitution, chief minister is the most prestigious post in a state but Goswami can be seen targeting Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and using instigating language against him in his shows,” the letter said. “Besides that, he can be seen making allegations against reputed people like Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh, Mumbai police commissioner, and officials of the Maharashtra police who hold constitutional and administrative posts.”

“Therefore,” the letter concluded, “the broadcast of Republic Bharat should be stopped with immediate effect.”

Republic Bharat responded by starting a #CantBlockRepublic petition.

Reinforcing the Shiv Sena’s culture

On September 11, a group of eight to ten men from the Shiv Sena brutally assaulted Madan Sharma, a 66-year-old retired Indian Navy personnel for sharing a cartoon of Uddhav Thackrey in a WhatsApp group. The incident occurred outside Sharma’s residential complex in Kandivali (East) and left him with injured eyes. The police have arrested six men including the prime accused, Kamlesh Kadam, a Sena shakha pramukh of the area.

Around 10 am, Sharma received a call from Kadam who was enquiring about a cartoon he had forwarded. Sharma explained to him that it was a WhatsApp forward. Around noon on the same day, Kadam called him again asking him to come to the complex’s gate for a chat. Sharma was assaulted by the group of men as soon as he reached the gate.

The cartoon in question.

In a similar incident in December 2019, a group of Shiv Sena men had tonsured a man in Wadala for sharing a post against Uddhav Thackrey on Facebook.

“The Shiv Sena is unable to give up its old habits,” said a Mumbai-based journalist, on the condition of anonymity. “It reacted in a very immature way...They could have at least consulted with their coalition partners before such a knee-jerk reaction.”

Parimal Maya Sudhakar, a political analyst, said the demolition of Ranaut’s office has “added fuel to the existing uproar”. He believes the Shiv Sena is trying to send a message to its cadre, that no one can mess with them in Mumbai.

“On the surface, it looks like Shiv Sena’s hara-kiri, wherein its frustration over the coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput, is further pushing it to the brink,” Sudhakar said. “However, purely from a political point of view, the Shiv Sena is not going to lose any ground over the treatment it is giving to Kangana Ranaut. Rather, Ranaut is providing enough material to the Shiv Sena to prepare its cadre to do what they are best known for — rada sanskruti. The rowdy culture.”

Sudhakar said it’s a “matter of surprise” that the party decided to use local government machinery and illegal constructions to settle scores with Ranaut.

“The Shiv Sena otherwise is averse to using legal means and always believes in ‘my way or the highway’ culture,” he said. “At least that’s what its founder and supremo Balasaheb Thackeray was known for and liked for by his followers.”

A Shiv Sena worker in Mumbai told Newslaundry that the BJP is “backing” Ranaut.

“What hurt the sainiks and Sena supporters most was Ranaut’s ‘Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’ remark about Mumbai,” the worker said. “She is getting publicity because of the Shiv Sena. This could have been avoided. She was given unnecessary importance and that’s why the issue became big...Politics have started over the whole issue and the BJP is taking full advantage of it.”

Party workers and political analysts told Newslaundry that in recent years, Sena followers have had greater liking for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah rather than Uddhav Thackeray, thanks to the Modi-Shah duo’s “rough and tough” measures. This is a big shift from the past, when BJP followers preferred Bal Thackeray to AB Vajpayee for the same reason.

Sudhakar said the Ranaut-Shiv Sena row has helped the Sena, and the BJP, detract from the spread of Covid in Maharashtra and India.

“They don’t want the media to focus on the pandemic as the Centre, state governments, and municipal corporations have fallen short of the required efforts,” he said. “In a way, it’s turning into a fixed match between the BJP and Sena, where the NCP and Congress are getting marginalised, particularly in Mumbai and its suburbs..."

Samar Khadas, the political editor of Maharashtra Times, said that Shiv Sena’s sainiks were worried about “losing their dominance on the streets of Mumbai”. As a result, he said, the pressure was mounting on Uddhav Thackeray.

“Every political party has a different core base. The core base of the Shiv Sena was from the streets of Mumbai,” he explained. “Mumbai has been a very emotional issue for Shiv Sena cadre since the time of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement...The whole Kangana Ranaut row is being done to challenge the dadagiri of the cadre, and it’s been done very strategically."


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