Saffron split: RSS takes on Sena, puts BJP in a spot

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JABALPUR/MUMBAI, 01 February 2010: The saffron spectrum stood divided over the "Mumbai for Maharashtrians" campaign with Shiv Sena taking on RSS over the Sangh’s call to oppose discrimination on the basis of language and violence against "outsiders". The Sena on Sunday said RSS must remember that priority must be accorded to Marathi speakers in Mumbai.

The spat has put BJP, the Sena’s alliance partner in Maharashtra, squarely in the cross-fire as it will find it difficult to go against the Sangh line -- all the more so as it was RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat who called on his organisation’s volunteers to protect north Indians from any bodily harm from the Sena’s aggressive "Marathi manoos" credo.

The war of words is likely to see BJP drawn in on the same side as the Sangh, pitting it against the Sena and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Faced with MNS making a successful grab for its Marathi constituency, the Sena has sought to get back into the Marathi sweepstakes.

The RSS and BJP have a larger arena to play to in north India, not least in Bihar where elections are due later this year. BJP has observed an uncomfortable silence so far, avoiding a proactive stance on the "Mumbai for natives" campaign. The party realises that there is a salience to MNS’s sectional appeal, but BJP has also wooed migrants in the city.

The BJP may now find it difficult to maintain ambiguity with RSS functionary Ram Madhav reiterating Bhagwat’s comments on Sunday, saying, "The Sangh parivar has asked its volunteers in Maharashtra to try and prevent the spread of anti-north Indian and anti-Hindi feelings."

In response to RSS’s remarks, Shiv Sena leader and former CM Manohar Joshi said, "The time has come to remind RSS that Mumbai belongs to Marathi people only and they should get priority here." Mumbai’s glory was due to the hard work of Marathi people and they have full rights over the city, said Joshi, echoing Sena chief Bal Thackeray who, after being jolted in the Assembly elections last October, has tried to outdo MNS, even taking on cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar.

In its bid to play the Marathi card, Sena has criticised filmstar and owner of Kolkata Knight Riders IPL team Shahrukh Khan for saying he would have liked to have selected Pakistani players for the T20 tournament.

On Saturday, Bhagwat had said, "Mumbai is for all Indians. People of all languages, communities, tribes are children of India... Nobody can prevent Indians from moving to any part of the country in search of employment."

BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who is in Bangalore, declined to be drawn into a discussion on the perceived divergent views on the migrants issue between RSS and Shiv Sena, saying, "I’ll first study and verify the statement (of Bhagwat) before reacting."

A Sena MP, who preferred anonymity, said, "If the BJP subscribes to Bhagwat’s line, then the Sena will have to rethink its ties with the BJP."

The relationship between the two saffron outfits has already been under strain with the BJP supporting statehood for Vidarbha and the Sena vehemently opposing it.

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