Mumbai: Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s Ayodhya outing on 24 and 25 November is being interpreted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership as a strong indication that Hindutva would bring the saffron allies together for the 2019 elections. During his visit to the temple town on Sunday, Thackeray asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare a date for construction of Ram temple.
In Mumbai, senior Shiv Sena leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Manohar Joshi told reporters on Saturday that the two parties could come together on the cause of Ram mandir. Notably, Joshi made this statement after meeting Thackeray before the latter left for Ayodhya. “BJP is a Hindutva party. If BJP takes up the cause of Ram mandir without thinking of vote-bank politics, the Shiv Sena and BJP could come together for this cause," Joshi said.
In Ayodhya, Thackeray addressed a meeting of Sena workers and Hindu seers at Laxman Qila where he asked the Modi government to set a deadline for mandir construction and also announced that if the centre or the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh brought an Act or ordinance to pave the way for the temple, Sena would support the move. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and head of Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas attended the meeting.
On Sunday, Thackeray addressed a press conference in which he said the current political dispensation at the centre would not return to power in 2019 if mandir was not built before the election. Thackeray reiterated Shiv Sena’s newly coined slogan “Har Hindu ki yahi pukar, pehle mandir, phir sarkar" and said he had come to Ayodhya to represent the sentiments of all Hindus that a mandir should be built at the site. But the Sena chief also regretted the fact that BJP government had not done anything concrete for construction of Ram mandir in four-and-half-years even though the party had promised the mandir in its manifesto in 2014.
Back in Maharashtra where the BJP and Shiv Sena have at best been uneasy allies in the last four and half years, Thackeray’s big mandir push is being seen as Sena’s rediscovery of the Hindutva issue ahead of 2019. “Sena’s internal surveys about its likely performance in 2019 have not been positive. Its cadres are confused about the party leadership’s real stand on the alliance with BJP as the leadership constantly attacks Modi ji and even the state government where it is a partner. Uddhav saheb has taken recourse to Hindutva only because that looks to him like the only issue on which he could make the Sena cadres perform a total U-turn and work with the BJP," said a Maharashtra BJP MP who requested anonymity.
An RSS functionary from Maharashtra said the RSS had always favoured “unity among all Hindutva forces". “We have nothing to do with BJP’s politics and its alliance or lack of it with Shiv Sena. But we have always insisted that people supporting Hindutva should not splinter into small and rival groups. That has been our stand whenever someone from BJP has talked to us about alliance with Shiv Sena," this RSS leader said, requesting anonymity.
A state BJP functionary, who did not want to be named, said Thackeray was also repositioning his party as the “natural" Hindutva outfit “after creating lot of confusion among his own cadres and supporters since 2014". “Shiv Sena’s commitment to Hindutva has never been suspect for us. But since 2014, Uddhav saheb and other Sena leaders have drifted away from us on several other issues forgetting the simple fact that we are bound by Hindutva. Also, Raj Thackeray (Shiv Sena rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s chief) has been invited by North Indians living in Mumbai for a public meeting in December. Uddhav saheb knows that he cannot retain his 18 MPs and 63 MLAs in Maharashtra by basing his politics only on Marathi manoos. He needs to reach out to the larger Hindu constituency in Mumbai and Maharashtra even if he wants to renegotiate the terms of alliance with BJP," said the BJP functionary.