Mumbai: Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena leader and executive editor of the party organ Saamana, has stoked a major controversy by suggesting that Muslims should be disenfranchised to stop votebank politics.

Raut in his weekly Marathi column Rokhthok or ‘To Put it bluntly’ argued, “Till Muslims are used as a vote bank, they have no future. That’s why Balasaheb (party supremo late Bal Thackeray) had demanded that Muslims’ voting rights be taken away. He was right. The day voting rights of Muslims is taken away, the mask of people who claim to be ‘secular’ will be torn apart..."

However, analysts believe Raut’s real target is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is already facing flak for the anti-minority rhetoric emanating from various organizations of the Sangh Parivar or organizations which owe their allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is a part.

Though the Shiv Sena continues to be part of the ruling coalition at the centre and in Maharashtra, its relationship with the BJP deteriorated after the collapse of their grand alliance before the 15 October assembly elections in the state.

The Shiv Sena loses no opportunity to target both Modi and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

The party opposed the controversial Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill and abstained from voting on it in the Lok Sabha.

In his article, Raut referred to a claim by Rahbar Khan, a candidate of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) for the 11 April byelection in Bandra East assembly constituency, where the Sena was engaged in a pitched battle with its bête noir and former chief minister Narayan Rane of the Congress. Khan claimed that he was offered 17 crore by a senior Congress leader to withdraw from the contest. He did not name the leader.

Raut said, “Some candidates wish to have a contender who will eat into Muslim votes, some others wish there should be no contestant in the fray who will eat into their Muslim vote bank. But this kind of vote bank politics is neither in the interest of Muslims nor in the interest of the country."

The MIM candidate who stood at third place in the October assembly elections is expected to grab a significant share of Muslim votes.

Muslims comprise around 31% of the total electorate in the constituency. Rane had accused the Sena of funding the MIM campaign against him.

Raut said, “Balasaheb had suggested some 15 years back, if the voting rights of Muslims are taken away for a few years, then the lobbying for their votes will stop."

In an attempt to downplay Raut’s remark, Shiv Sena spokeswoman and legislator Neelam Gorhe told Press Trust of India, “The (Saamana) article tries to say that to achieve development in every sphere of life, the politics of appeasement being done by a section of leaders needs to be done away with as it is not in the interest of Muslims. These people are only misguiding the community without really helping them."

Girish Kuber, editor of Marathi daily Loksatta said, “Modi is under fire for keeping mum on controversial anti-minority remarks from leaders of organization from Sangh Parivar and BJP itself, and Raut’s article is a clear attempt to put Modi and BJP in a spot as media, opposition parties and civil society groups will seek explanation from BJP and Modi over its ally’s provocative remarks."

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