NAGPUR, Maharashtra: For some weeks now, political observers have been expecting Shiv Sena workers to hit the streets to express their anger. After all, the ‘provocations’ have been numerous: Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut equating Mumbai with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Arnab Goswami rolling up his sleeves and ‘daring’ Maharashtra chief minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to speak with him, attempts to drag Uddhav’s son Aaditya Thackeray into the Sushant Singh Rajput death investigation.
Some years ago, it would have taken much less for the militantly chauvinistic party to indulge in physical violence, but the Shiv Sena’s response to all this has been muted, if not entirely civil. The day after the Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) demolished parts of Ranaut’s office, party mouthpiece Saamana answered her video challenge with a petty ’Ukhaad diya’ splashed on its front page.
Some Shiv Sena workers landed up at the airport to protest Ranaut’s arrival but a senior party leader told HuffPost India that this was against Uddhav Thackeray’s orders.
“Some of our workers’ unions were too angry and went on their own to protest at the airport,” the Mumbai-based leader claimed on condition of anonymity.
Senior leader and Saamana editor Raut also put the party on the backfoot by using abusive language against the actor, who is now hypervisible on social media.
Otherwise, the party has mostly resorted to legal options such as privilege motions against Goswami and Ranaut in the Maharashtra assembly and even giving (short) notice to the actor before demolishing her office.
There is mixed opinion in the state over whether Ranaut managed to get an upper hand over Shiv Sena.
“Shiv Sena has changed its traditional ways and used legal means in this case. If using legal means and maintaining composure is being seen by some people at Shiv Sena’s weakness despite Kangana’s derogatory mention of the chief minister, then they are living in a fool’s paradise,” Vijay Chormare, a senior editor of leading Marathi daily Maharashtra Times, wrote in a Facebook post earlier this week.
BJP has no face to say anything in this. When Kedarnath was released, it was the same BJP which opposed Sushant Singh Rajput saying the movie promoted love jihad
But others think the party’s knee jerk reaction of demolition gave Ranaut what she wanted—a reason to play a victim card.
“Kangana’s building may have been constructed illegally but when you demolish it at a time when there is a war of words going on, there is a chance that you may come across as vindictive and your motives could also be questioned. The lack of strategy and thinking was clearly felt in all this. BJP laid a well-planned trap and Shiv Sena easily fell in it. They have lost the narrative now,” said Dhaval Kulkarni, a Mumbai-based senior journalist and the author of the book The Cousins Thackeray.
The BJP has also been treading carefully over the Ranaut issue, trying to distance itself from her controversial statements in Maharashtra even as it fuels anger in Bihar over Rajput’s death, The Indian Express reported on Friday.
Within Shiv Sena, opinions appeared divided over the decision to demolish Kangana’s office space.
HuffPost India spoke with two Shiv Sena leaders who have been close to the Thackeray family, who had diametrically opposite views. While one said that some reaction was needed as the drama was orchestrated by the BJP, the other said that the reaction was unnecessary and the party should have followed NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s pattern in this case.
In fact, Ranaut mentioned Pawar in one of her tweets on Thursday but the veteran politician laughed it off when asked about this by reporters in Mumbai.
Two former Shiv Sena MPs, one of whom has been a party spokesperson in the past, told HuffPost India that they would prefer not to react to the ongoing drama.
For now, Shiv Sena’s young brigade is taking on Ranaut, Goswami, and the BJP on social media but the anxiety among the old guard is visible.
“There was no need to call Mumbai as PoK. It’s clear that she is a BJP puppet. And BJP has no face to say anything in this. When Kedarnath was released, it was the same BJP which opposed Sushant Singh Rajput saying the movie promoted love jihad. Did they not try to demolish IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s house in Gujarat? They just want to use the issue politically,” said senior Shiv Sena leader Shishir Shinde, who has been close to all Thackerays including Raj.
Kulkarni thinks Uddhav’s “democratic” nature has prevented Shiv Sena from indulging in violence this time.
“You cannot compare Uddhav’s tenure with Balasaheb’s. The propaganda (against Shiv Sena) that is going on is clearly orchestrated and well-planned. Shiv Sena’s old guard, which believed in strong reactions, is really anxious with all this but the strategy in Shiv Sena is now being decided by people close to Aaditya. Uddhav’s nature doesn’t allow all this ( old Shiv Sena style reaction),” he added.
Kulkarni also pointed out that the Shiv Sena’s tradition of reactionary politics meant it mishandled the fallout of the Rajput case from the beginning.
“Right from Day 1, there was an attempt to implicate Aaditya in the Sushant Singh Rajput case and Shiv Sena mishandled it. BJP leader Narayan Rane had called a press conference and alleged that a young minister was involved in the case but did not mention Aaditya’s name. Ideally, Shiv Sena should have kept quiet but they reacted and Aaditya even released a public statement,” added Kulkarni.