Sena begins alliance talks in poll-bound Bengal, eyes BJP vote bank

Sena's plan is to invoke the Bengali regionalist sentiment along with Hindu pride to cut the Hindu votes the BJP is targeting

Shiv Sena poll symbol
The EC has allowed the Sena (UBT) to keep the flaming torch symbol till the conclusion of the Kasba Peth and Chinchwad Assembly bypolls in Pune district scheduled for February 26. Representational pic

The Shiv Sena has initiated discussions with a radical pro-Bengali political outfit called Amra Bangali to forge an alliance to contest at least 100 seats in the ensuing assembly elections in West Bengal.

The Sena’s plan is to invoke the Bengali regionalist sentiment along with Hindu pride to cut the Hindu votes the BJP is targeting with its ultra nationalist plank.

The outfit Amra Bangali (AMB) — literally meaning ‘we are Bengalis’ — is a frontal organisation of the Ananda Marg, a controversial Hindu religious sect implicated in the infamous Purulia arms drop case of 1995.

The AMB is quite an old party and also enjoyed a brief success in the mid-eighties by winning a few gram panchayat seats in the state. But it had almost disappeared from the political scene until it resurfaced recently with some sporadic protests, demanding protection for Bengali language and culture.

By joining hands with the outfit, the Sena is clearly trying to appeal to the Bengali pride to counter the BJP’s Hindu nationalism.

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“We will seek vote from the people of the state to protect Bengali language and culture along with Hindu identity,” said Ashoke Sarkar, the general secretary of the Shiv Sena in West Bengal.

Sarkar termed the BJP as an “anti-Bengali fascist party”, a definition often used by the ruling Trinamool Congress to describe the BJP as the ensuing elections is increasingly becoming a battle of “nationalism versus regionalism.”

The Sena, in its mouthpiece ‘Saamana’, last month gave a call to all the anti-BJP parties to unite to take on its former saffron ally.

Stating that in West Bengal, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is “waging a lonely battle (against the BJP)”, the Saamana said others should stand by her.

Sarkar, however, said the Sena would not go for any alliance with the TMC or any other major political parties. “We are holding discussions with outfits like Amra Bangali to protect the interest of Bengali Hindus in the state,” he added.

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Sena’s emphasis on both Bengali and Hindu sentiments is seen as a deliberate ploy to whip up ethnic sentiment among BJP’s hardcore Bengali Hindu supporters.

“As expected, the Sena is trying to push the cause of Bengali regionalism within the greater Hindu fold. The move is expected to cut into BJP’s vote base,” said Kolkata-based political commentator and author Nirmalya Banerjee.

Sena’s decision comes close on the heels of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) joining hands with an influential Muslim cleric of the state, Abbas Siddiqui, to field candidates in minority-dominated assembly constituencies.

“Just as the AIMIM is eyeing at the TMC’s Muslim vote base, the Shiv Sena is trying to split the hardcore Hindu votes of the BJP,” Banerjee added.

Sena’s national secretary and MP Anil Desai is expected to visit the state on January 29 to finalise the party’s poll strategy and alliance. Maharashtra Chief Minister and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray would be the party’s star campaigner in the state, Sarkar said.