India’s ultra-right Shiv Sena party forms coalition government with seculars

The swearing in of 59-year-old Uddhav Thackeray as the 18th chief minister of the state marks a new political experiment in Maharashtra. (Reuters)
Updated 28 November 2019

India’s ultra-right Shiv Sena party forms coalition government with seculars

  • Historic Maharashtra state alliance breaks three-decade-old tie with PM Modi’s ruling BJP
  • Dubbed the Maharashtra Progressive Alliance, the coalition took charge under the leadership of SS President Uddhav Thackeray

NEW DELHI: India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena (SS) on Thursday formed a coalition government in the key western state of Maharashtra.

Dubbed the Maharashtra Progressive Alliance, the coalition took charge under the leadership of SS president, Uddhav Thackeray, more than a month after the announcement of results of the regional poll.

Thackeray tied up with the Congress party and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), two secular entities that have not only been long-term ideological opponents but also bitter political rivals of SS in the state.

When the state assembly elections were announced on Oct. 24, the ruling coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and SS secured an absolute majority in the house of 288.

However, the SS group refused to come on board until the BJP honored a pre-election commitment to give the rotational chief minister in the state a two-and-a-half-year tenure for each party. But the BJP refused to negotiate.

As a result, SS members broke the three-decade-old alliance and started negotiating with the opposition secular alliance of Congress and the NCP. After weeks of talks the three parties agreed to form a government on Nov. 22 and declared Thackeray as their chief ministerial candidate.

Within hours of the announcement of the opposition alliance, the BJP secretively swore in outgoing Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis as the new leader of the state, claiming the backing of the 54 legislators of the NCP and its legislative party leader, Ajit Pawar.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court intervened and asked the BJP to prove its majority within 24 hours. Fadnavis had no option but to resign as NCP leader, and Pawar failed to convince his party legislators to support a BJP-led government.

The swearing in of 59-year-old Thackeray as the 18th chief minister of the state marks a new political experiment in Maharashtra.

He along with 43 ministers, took an oath of office during a public ceremony. Never before had the Congress, India’s oldest party, aligned with any right-wing Hindu party.

The Congress has always been a major political rival of SS, opposing its divisive agenda. Both the secular parties and SS have divergent political views on Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370, that gave a special constitutional status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

SS has been actively involved in anti-Muslim politics and its leadership was indicted by a Congress government-appointed commission for its involvement in 1993 Mumbai religious violence that claimed hundreds of lives, mostly Muslims.

SS officials have said that the ideological contradictions will not get in the way and “the government would be stable as it would be guided by a common minimum program.”

BJP president and Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah said on Wednesday that the SS party had “insulted the mandate of the people of Maharashtra,” adding that “all the three parties have abandoned their ideologies and values to form the government.”

The Congress party claimed that the alliance was “not a compromise of principles or ideology, it’s a byproduct of the political exigencies.” Party spokesperson, Pawan Khera, said: “The government would run on a common minimum program and the Congress party will not compromise with secular ideology.”

Political analysts called the development “a radical shift in the state politics.”

Prof. Shailendra R. Kharat, of Pune University, said: “Shiv Sena was an uneasy partner in the coalition with the BJP because it did not want to play second fiddle to the BJP. With the alliance a new possibility of stopping the BJP juggernaut is taking shape. It might result in the dent of the BJP’s influence.”

He added: “The alliance is intrinsically instable because of its inner ideological contradictions.”

Mumbai-based Girish Kuber, editor of Maharashtra regional newspaper Loksatta, said that “the alliance is delicately poised. Political alliance is not only about arithmetic there has to be some chemistry between the alliance partners. Unfortunately, this is completely missing in this alliance.”

“Shiv Sena’s positions on Kashmir, the Hindu Muslim issue and the question of the temple at the disputed religious site at Ayodhya, are completely at variance with the Congress and the NCP. Either Sena becomes secular or Congress agrees to become communal, it is only then the alliance will survive for long,” he told Arab News.

“For the BJP it is a big loss. It was also quite desperate to form the government in Maharashtra,” he added. “It will have implications at a national level. The BJP now looks more vulnerable with the emergence of a strong anti-BJP front at the regional level. It shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal has also got fractured with people looking for an alternative at the regional level.

“With the elections lined up in Jharkhand and Delhi soon, and Uttar Pradesh next year, the BJP cannot be sure of its success. It can no longer say one party and one nation,” said Kuber.

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”