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BJP Netas at Hindutva Rallies in a BJP-Shinde Led Maharashtra: What’s at Play?

The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

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Three months, 12 districts, 31 rallies — almost six months after the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government came to power in the state, right-wing Hindu outfits have unitedly taken to streets across districts to demand for two specific issues from their own government — laws against 'love jihad' and 'land jihad'.

The latest demonstration in the series of rallies called the Hindu Jan Akrosh Morcha was attended by at least 10,000 participants as the police claimed, in the capital city of Mumbai. With anti-Muslim slogans and chants to demand formulation of laws, the outfits under the umbrella body of Sakal Hindu Samaj (SHS) marched from Shivaji Park in Dadar to Kamgar Maidan in Prabhadevi.

But like several of these rallies, the most striking presence was that of prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders of Maharashtra and Mumbai, along with leaders of the Shinde faction.

In a conversation with those present at the rally, including BJP leaders, right-wing outfits, and political experts, the article will take a closer look at the the following aspects of the matter:

BJP Netas at Hindutva Rallies in a BJP-Shinde Led Maharashtra: What’s at Play?

  1. 1. The Rise of Right-wing Rallies and the Show of Strength in Mumbai

    BJP MP Gopal Shetty, MLA and Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar, MLC Pravin Darekar, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, and former corporator and Shinde faction leader Sheetal Mhatre, were among the several alliance leaders who attended the rally in Mumbai on Sunday.

    The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Karni Sena, Vishwa Sanatan Sangha, Rajput Youth Front, and the All India Maheshwar Samaj were among the several prominent outfits under the SHS who participated in the rally.

    The first Hindu Jan Akrosh Morcha took place in the Parbhani district in November 2022, months after the new alliance came to power.

    Subsequently, rallies took place in Nagpur, Pune, Amravati, Kolhapur, Solapur, Sangli, Satara, Buldana, Nanded, Ahmednagar, Gadchiroli, Dhule, Jalna and Karad, among other places. More such rallies have been planned in Pune, Chinchwad, and Baramati in the coming days.

    The presence of top BJP leaders, however, raises a crucial question — why the need to take to streets to press for demands when its own party is in power?

    The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

    A poster for the rally being circulated on Facebook.

    (Photo: Facebook/Chandrakant Malkar)

    The outfits have been claiming the rise of 'love jihad' in the state, alleging that young Hindu girls are being trapped by Muslim men, often by changing their identities, and are being tricked into marriage for the sake of conversion.

    Claiming that thousands of girls have been rescued from love jihad over the years, Shankar Gaikar, a Mumbai-based senior central VHP functionary said: "We don't intend to pressurise the government, but just want to display the akrosh (anger) of the Hindus, hence calling it the akrosh morcha."

    "The government will have to meet our demands or there will be rallies in every district," he asserted.

    The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

    BJP MP Gopal Shetty and party leader Kirit Somaiya at the rally in Mumbai on Sunday, 29 January.

    (Photo: Facebook/Amar The outfits have been claiming the rise of 'love jihad' in the state, alleging that young Hindu girls are being trapped by Muslim menShah)

    Shriraj Nair, national VHP spokesperson and senior functionary from Maharashtra said that the "world saw what happened with Shraddha Walker and Tunisha Sharma."

    In both cases, however, no attempts at forced conversion have been established or proved by the police.

    "We believe that the current government is serious about these issues. It has formed a committee and also put a helpline number in place and we stand by it. But we demand that there has to be a law in place," he said.

    The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

    Protesters with placards against 'land jihad' at the Mumbai rally on Sunday, 29 January.

    (Photo: Chetna Korgaonkar/Facebook)

    Expand
  2. 2. How the Maharashtra BJP Looks at the Demonstrations

    In December 2022, the Maharashtra government set up a 13-member committee to monitor interfaith marriages under minister for women and child development Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who last week urged people to attend Sunday's rally "in large numbers."

    The formation of the committee came days after deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in the Winter Session of the Maharashtra Assembly said that it was examining the anti-conversion laws in other states.

    Commenting on the rallies, Fadnavis last week backed the "motive" behind them and said that the ministers and BJP leaders attending them are "also Hindus."

    "I am not saying all marriages between Hindus and Muslims have the angle of ‘love jihad’, but there is a faction that is consistently bringing about such changes in society. When you notice this, it is natural there will be a reaction from within society,” Fadnavis said.
    The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

    BJP MLA Nitesh Rane at an event organised by Sakal Hindu Samaj in Dharavi last week.

    (Photo: Facebook/Pratik Karpe)

    On the message that goes out after BJP leaders take to streets with their own government in power in the state, Ashish Shelar claimed that the rallies were "not political" and that the SHS is not a "political outfit."

    "The rally was not an anti-government demonstration, but a display of anger against such practices. It was a display of anger against trapping of Hindu girls for forced conversions, without any political colour," Shelar claimed.

    He further said that the decision to bring in a law against conversion is up to the state government, but in the meantime, it is necessary to "awaken the masses."

    Expand
  3. 3. How Uddhav Faction's Stand on the Morcha Puts it In a Fix

    The Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), while calling it a failure of the Shinde-Fadnavis government in the state, backed the demand for a law on forced conversions.

    After a statement by party MP Sanjay Raut on similar lines on Sunday, the party in its mouthpiece Saamana on Monday said: "The BJP claims that with Modi-Shah at the Centre, there is 'Ramrajya' in the country and this state is a heaven for Hindus. So, it is surprising that there was still an aakrosh morcha."

    "If there is indeed an issue of love-jihad or forced conversion, there should be a strong law. But whenever elections approach, sudden claims of 'Hindutva being in danger' arise in BJP-ruled states," it said.

    The Uddhav faction's stand, however, is starkly different than its allies in the state.

    When asked about the rallies, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Supriya Sule at an event in Pune on Sunday said that she knows what the words 'love' and 'jihad' mean, but did not know about 'love jihad'.

    Expand
  4. 4. How The Rallies Might Benefit Maharashtra BJP More Than Harming It

    Several experts see the rallies as attempts to polarise ahead of three key civic body elections in Mumbai, Nagpur, and Pune.

    Senior political analyst Hemant Desai said that attempts are being made to rake up issues that are not really the core issues of a city like Mumbai, in an attempt to not just polarise, but also corner the Uddhav Thackeray faction.

    "A similar rally took place in Pune last week, but there have never been such incidents (love jihad, land jihad) reported from Pune. Another one was in Kolhapur before that, which was led by BJP leader Nitesh Rane," Desai said.

    "Another goal also might be to corner Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena and try to portray it as anti-Hindu. The party is allying with the Congress and the NCP, so taking a stand openly on a matter like 'love jihad' would put it in a fix," he added.

    "Once the faction is perceived as taking a dual stand on the matter, the BJP aims to attract all possible Hindu votes to itself, even those who would traditionally vote for the Sena. The BJP in Mumbai has been targeting the Sena over alleged corruption in the BMC, but the impact has not been as expected. Secondly, if the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) contests BMC as an alliance and considering that the Uddhav faction is still stronger in Mumbai than the Shinde faction, it will be a tough fight," Desai said.

    The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

    Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh at the Mumbai rally. Known for his controversial statements, Singh reportedly called for boycotting businesses by Muslims in his address on Sunday.

    (Photo: Facebook/T Raja Singh fanclub)

    Echoing Desai's views, senior analyst Suhas Palishikar said that there has been a systematic attempt to polarise for the past few months, and these rallies are just a part of it.

    "These issues (love jihad, land jihad) are not concrete anywhere in Maharashtra. The current Hindutva government's eventual plan is to strengthen the current panel formed to probe interfaith marriages and make a case in the future for the need of a law," he said.

    "The BJP performed well in 2014 and in 2019, but it needs to ensure that it comes to power single-handedly in the state. So, the attempts to polarise are not just for the BMC elections, but also for the 2024 Assembly elections," Palshikar added.

    Whether polarisation would help the BJP win the BMC elections in a city like Mumbai or not is a matter of time, but the rallies and the stand on love jihad is clearly a bone of contention between the Uddhav faction and its MVA allies.

    Even though the party has openly demanded a law and quelled the BJP-Shinde alliance's claims of being anti-Hindu, the BJP still has abundant scope to target it for allying with the NCP and the Congress who are publicly known to disqualify the issues being raised.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Rise of Right-wing Rallies and the Show of Strength in Mumbai

BJP MP Gopal Shetty, MLA and Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar, MLC Pravin Darekar, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, and former corporator and Shinde faction leader Sheetal Mhatre, were among the several alliance leaders who attended the rally in Mumbai on Sunday.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Karni Sena, Vishwa Sanatan Sangha, Rajput Youth Front, and the All India Maheshwar Samaj were among the several prominent outfits under the SHS who participated in the rally.

The first Hindu Jan Akrosh Morcha took place in the Parbhani district in November 2022, months after the new alliance came to power.

Subsequently, rallies took place in Nagpur, Pune, Amravati, Kolhapur, Solapur, Sangli, Satara, Buldana, Nanded, Ahmednagar, Gadchiroli, Dhule, Jalna and Karad, among other places. More such rallies have been planned in Pune, Chinchwad, and Baramati in the coming days.

The presence of top BJP leaders, however, raises a crucial question — why the need to take to streets to press for demands when its own party is in power?

The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

A poster for the rally being circulated on Facebook.

(Photo: Facebook/Chandrakant Malkar)

The outfits have been claiming the rise of 'love jihad' in the state, alleging that young Hindu girls are being trapped by Muslim men, often by changing their identities, and are being tricked into marriage for the sake of conversion.

Claiming that thousands of girls have been rescued from love jihad over the years, Shankar Gaikar, a Mumbai-based senior central VHP functionary said: "We don't intend to pressurise the government, but just want to display the akrosh (anger) of the Hindus, hence calling it the akrosh morcha."

"The government will have to meet our demands or there will be rallies in every district," he asserted.

The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

BJP MP Gopal Shetty and party leader Kirit Somaiya at the rally in Mumbai on Sunday, 29 January.

(Photo: Facebook/Amar The outfits have been claiming the rise of 'love jihad' in the state, alleging that young Hindu girls are being trapped by Muslim menShah)

Shriraj Nair, national VHP spokesperson and senior functionary from Maharashtra said that the "world saw what happened with Shraddha Walker and Tunisha Sharma."

In both cases, however, no attempts at forced conversion have been established or proved by the police.

"We believe that the current government is serious about these issues. It has formed a committee and also put a helpline number in place and we stand by it. But we demand that there has to be a law in place," he said.

The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

Protesters with placards against 'land jihad' at the Mumbai rally on Sunday, 29 January.

(Photo: Chetna Korgaonkar/Facebook)

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How the Maharashtra BJP Looks at the Demonstrations

In December 2022, the Maharashtra government set up a 13-member committee to monitor interfaith marriages under minister for women and child development Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who last week urged people to attend Sunday's rally "in large numbers."

The formation of the committee came days after deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in the Winter Session of the Maharashtra Assembly said that it was examining the anti-conversion laws in other states.

Commenting on the rallies, Fadnavis last week backed the "motive" behind them and said that the ministers and BJP leaders attending them are "also Hindus."

"I am not saying all marriages between Hindus and Muslims have the angle of ‘love jihad’, but there is a faction that is consistently bringing about such changes in society. When you notice this, it is natural there will be a reaction from within society,” Fadnavis said.
The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

BJP MLA Nitesh Rane at an event organised by Sakal Hindu Samaj in Dharavi last week.

(Photo: Facebook/Pratik Karpe)

On the message that goes out after BJP leaders take to streets with their own government in power in the state, Ashish Shelar claimed that the rallies were "not political" and that the SHS is not a "political outfit."

"The rally was not an anti-government demonstration, but a display of anger against such practices. It was a display of anger against trapping of Hindu girls for forced conversions, without any political colour," Shelar claimed.

He further said that the decision to bring in a law against conversion is up to the state government, but in the meantime, it is necessary to "awaken the masses."

0

How Uddhav Faction's Stand on the Morcha Puts it In a Fix

The Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), while calling it a failure of the Shinde-Fadnavis government in the state, backed the demand for a law on forced conversions.

After a statement by party MP Sanjay Raut on similar lines on Sunday, the party in its mouthpiece Saamana on Monday said: "The BJP claims that with Modi-Shah at the Centre, there is 'Ramrajya' in the country and this state is a heaven for Hindus. So, it is surprising that there was still an aakrosh morcha."

"If there is indeed an issue of love-jihad or forced conversion, there should be a strong law. But whenever elections approach, sudden claims of 'Hindutva being in danger' arise in BJP-ruled states," it said.

The Uddhav faction's stand, however, is starkly different than its allies in the state.

When asked about the rallies, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Supriya Sule at an event in Pune on Sunday said that she knows what the words 'love' and 'jihad' mean, but did not know about 'love jihad'.

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How The Rallies Might Benefit Maharashtra BJP More Than Harming It

Several experts see the rallies as attempts to polarise ahead of three key civic body elections in Mumbai, Nagpur, and Pune.

Senior political analyst Hemant Desai said that attempts are being made to rake up issues that are not really the core issues of a city like Mumbai, in an attempt to not just polarise, but also corner the Uddhav Thackeray faction.

"A similar rally took place in Pune last week, but there have never been such incidents (love jihad, land jihad) reported from Pune. Another one was in Kolhapur before that, which was led by BJP leader Nitesh Rane," Desai said.

"Another goal also might be to corner Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena and try to portray it as anti-Hindu. The party is allying with the Congress and the NCP, so taking a stand openly on a matter like 'love jihad' would put it in a fix," he added.

"Once the faction is perceived as taking a dual stand on the matter, the BJP aims to attract all possible Hindu votes to itself, even those who would traditionally vote for the Sena. The BJP in Mumbai has been targeting the Sena over alleged corruption in the BMC, but the impact has not been as expected. Secondly, if the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) contests BMC as an alliance and considering that the Uddhav faction is still stronger in Mumbai than the Shinde faction, it will be a tough fight," Desai said.

The Sakal Hindu Samaj, comprising of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, has organised 31 rallies across state since November.

Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh at the Mumbai rally. Known for his controversial statements, Singh reportedly called for boycotting businesses by Muslims in his address on Sunday.

(Photo: Facebook/T Raja Singh fanclub)

Echoing Desai's views, senior analyst Suhas Palishikar said that there has been a systematic attempt to polarise for the past few months, and these rallies are just a part of it.

"These issues (love jihad, land jihad) are not concrete anywhere in Maharashtra. The current Hindutva government's eventual plan is to strengthen the current panel formed to probe interfaith marriages and make a case in the future for the need of a law," he said.

"The BJP performed well in 2014 and in 2019, but it needs to ensure that it comes to power single-handedly in the state. So, the attempts to polarise are not just for the BMC elections, but also for the 2024 Assembly elections," Palshikar added.

Whether polarisation would help the BJP win the BMC elections in a city like Mumbai or not is a matter of time, but the rallies and the stand on love jihad is clearly a bone of contention between the Uddhav faction and its MVA allies.

Even though the party has openly demanded a law and quelled the BJP-Shinde alliance's claims of being anti-Hindu, the BJP still has abundant scope to target it for allying with the NCP and the Congress who are publicly known to disqualify the issues being raised.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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