The Shiv Sena scored a self-goal by publishing a cartoon that mocks the Maratha Muk (silent) Morcha at a time when the dominant caste of Marathas is up in arms over the most emotive issue of stern action against the rapist of a girl from the community.
It’s really ironic that the Shiv Sena — that used Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s cartoons as a powerful weapon against party’s political opponents, finds itself embroiled in a controversy over a cartoon published in the Sunday edition of its mouth piece Saamana. The caricaturist in question, Shrinivas Prabhudesai has tendered an unconditional apology to the enraged Maratha community for the cartoon showing a man planting a kiss on the cheek of a woman participating in the morcha. The cartoonist has tried to be funny by punning around the word “Muka” (kiss) instead of “Muk”.
Aggressive youths from the community led by the “Sambhaji Brigade” were not satisfied with the apology and pelted Sena offices in two locations with stones. The Sena known for its strong arm-tactics is not used to becoming a target itself. Although there is no reaction from Sena leaders to assuage the hurt sentiments of Maratha community, the party should sit up and take notice of the possible fallout of this controversy in the near future.
And although the Maratha community is largely supporting the Congress and the NCP due to economic interests (linked with the network of cooperatives in the state), the community has a soft corner for the Sena. The party founder Bal Thackeray invoked Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji to enhance his brand of militant Hindutva when he set up his regional party in late 1960s. In fact, the Sena has made solid inroads in the Marathwada and Konkan region by securing support from marginal Maratha farmers facing the adverse impact of the globalisation process. Unlike the BJP, the Sena has a sizable number of Maratha MLAs who were elected in the last Assembly elections in 2014. While traditional Maratha leadership that controls the rural economy through cooperatives has remained faithful to the two Congress parties, a large chunk of marginal Maratha farmers have shifted their loyalties to the rhetoric of militant Hindutva by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.
Industries Minister Subhash Desai, prime ideologue and strategy planner of the Sena, has taken a few steps to control damage and end the controversy by interacting with organisers of these Maratha morchas. The Sena, that has reluctantly joined the BJP-led alliance government in the state, is facing factional feuds within the party. Saamana editor and party MP Sanjay Raut is at the receiving end for the blunder with his detractors questioning the motive behind such a devastating lapse on the part of the party mouthpiece.
The silent processions being taken out by Maratha community are being carried out on their own without the direct involvement of traditional leaders demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. The simmering discontent within the Maratha community came to the fore soon after the gangrape and murder of a 14-year-old girl from the community in the Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district in western Maharashtra. They began taking out spontaneous morchas demanding death sentence for the rapist belonging to a Sheduled Caste. They also demanded an amendment to the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to avoid the misuse of the Act.
The massive turnout (with large numbers of Maratha women and girls) has surprised observers who are still unsure about which way the events will turn and the potential political fallout. The Congress, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been trying to assess the situation and turn the uprising of Marathas in their own favour.
The Congress — as well as the NCP — is not going to lose the golden opportunity to use the hurt feelings of the community against the Sena. Leader of the House in the state legislative Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil has demanded action against Saamana saying, “We knew Shiv Sena was against Dalits and Muslims, but we never knew it was also against Marathas.” His counterpart in the upper House, NCP leader Dhananjya Munde — who has lambasted the Sena for opposing massive morchas by the Maratha community by publishing such a cartoon — is demanding an apology from none other than Uddhav himself (who is chief editor of the paper) and executive editor Sanjay Raut.
It’s really ironic that the Shiv Sena — that used Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s cartoons as a powerful weapon against party’s political opponents, finds itself embroiled in a controversy over a cartoon published in the Sunday edition of its mouth piece Saamana
The BJP is also not too far behind in hitting out at the Shiv Sena, since both the parties have been fighting each other even though they are running a coalition government.
Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar is not satisfied with an apology by the cartoonist, he wants a public apology to the Maratha community by the Sena mouth piece Saamana.
The Sena has already began realising the gravity of the situation as some of the Maratha leaders have begun threatening to leave the party in view of the anger created over the publication of the cartoon. The Shiv Sena’s claim that the Opposition parties are trying to fuel the controversy for political gain is not going to help the party in assuaging the hurt feelings of the dominating Maratha community.
The author is a senior journalist and a reputed painter