Who controls Mumbai, India’s financial capital and one of the richest cities in the world?
Clearly, the Shiv Sena, if recent mishaps are anything to go by. But has the Sena gone too far in their bullying and intimidation tactics in targeting popular Bollywood star, Kangana Ranaut, and retired Naval officer, Madan Sharma?
Ranaut’s property in the posh Pali Hills neighbourhood was damaged by Sena controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on 9th September causing a national uproar. Two days later, Sharma was beaten up, allegedly by Sena supporters and goons, on 11th September.
For sharing on social media a cartoon satirising the current Sena Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray. This horrendous attack on a veteran, besides drawing so much negative publicity to the Sena, was not without its peculiar irony. The late Bal Thackeray, founder of the Sena and the father of Uddhav, was himself a cartoonist, sharp and unsparing in lampooning politicians he disliked.
The Sena is the leading partner of the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (Maharashtra Development Front) coalition government in Maharashtra. This ideologically mismatched and opportunistic coalition comprising the Sena with head, Uddhav Thackeray, the current Chief Minister, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress, was formed in 2019.
Ranaut drew the Sena’s ire for her provocative tweets following the death of fellow-Bollywood actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. Supposedly a suicide, the case has now almost turned into TV melodrama, with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) taking over the inquiry. Ranaut had tweeted on 3rd September that she had no trust in the Mumbai police and did not feel safe in the city after what has been portrayed in the media as a botched-up cover-up: ‘After a major star has been killed I spoke about drug and movie mafia racket, I don’t trust @MumbaiPolice cos they ignored SSR’s complaints, he told everyone they will kill him yet he was killed, if I feel unsafe, does that mean I hate the industry and Mumbai?’
She had hash tagged her tweet ‘ShameOnSanjayRaut.’ Raut, a Shiv Sena leader, retaliated by accusing the actor of betraying the city despite making such a good living there. He wrote in party-owned, Dainik Saamana, of which he is the executive editor, ‘We kindly request her not to come to Mumbai. This is nothing but an insult to Mumbai police. The Home Ministry should take action over it.’ Soon after, on 9th September citizens of the city and TV viewers in the rest of the country were shocked to see BMC JCB’s smashing away at the compound of Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut’s residence. Officials also stormed inside wrecking the premises.
Just twenty-four hours prior to this assault, Ranaut had been served a notice by the BMC to ‘stop-work’ alleging unauthorized construction and 14 violations, including ‘illegal’ alterations. This notice too had been served so expeditiously, after an inspection just the previous day, as to be suspicious. Ranaut asserted, ‘There is no illegal construction in my house…Bollywood watch now this is what Fascism looks like.’ Given that there was already a High Court order staying demolitions till 30 September in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that the BMC had not only acted in undue, perhaps vindictive, haste but had violated court orders. Ranaut’s lawyer, Rizwan Siddiqui, accusing the BMC of trespassing and false claims, moved the High Court to stop the demolition. Her prayer was not only granted, but the Court ordered BMC to reply to her petition.
Tweeting pictures of the demolition by ‘Babur and his army,’ the ‘Queen’ star wrote: ‘I am never wrong and my enemies prove again and again this is why my Mumbai is POK now #deathofdemocracy.’ Since the bitter battle with the Sena the actor erupted, she has received multiple threats and a volley of insults. The Central government’s Home Ministry intervened by ordering ‘Y+’ category security for her.
Madan Sharma’s bloated face, with right eye bloodied and blackened, as well as video footage of his being beaten and kicked by nine or ten men, also outraged the nation. If a naval officer and veteran could be so badly treated what of common citizens? Had Mumbai descended into ‘goonda raj’—the rule of ruffians and hooligans? In a damage control exercise some of Sharma’s attackers have been arrested, but the Sena’s image has been badly tarnished.
It is anybody’s guess how long this unlikely, and now unruly, alliance will hold out. But one thing is clear. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), waiting in the wings to return to power, will spare no opportunity to bring it down. The Shiv Sena, it would seem, has provided them more ammunition to do so.