Raj Thackeray
In an open letter, the MNS leader had asked people to lodge complaint with police by dialling 100 if they are disturbed by the sound of azaan. File photo: PTI

Raj Thackeray’s Hanuman Chalisa diktat puts MNS leaders in a spot

Many leaders expressed concern over the issue, though Raj managed to coax the party’s Pune unit chief back into the fold after sacking him for criticising the move

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Chief Raj Thackeray’s diktat urging his karyakartas to play the Hanuman Chalisa on full volume outside mosques— at a time when the holy month of Ramadan is on — seems to have put the party and Thackeray himself in a sticky spot.

Raj Thackeray had exhorted his party workers to do so during his speech in Mumbai on the occasion of Gudi Padwa. The vociferous leader, who had been lying low for the last two years, resurfaced with a speech aimed at bringing the MNS back into political relevance in Maharashtra by playing the Hindutva card.

Apart from chiding Shiv Sena for diluting its Hindutva character and accusing Sharad Pawar’s NCP of indulging in caste politics, Thackeray had urged the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition to remove “illegal” loudspeakers playing the Azaan from outside mosques. He warned that if they failed to do so, MNS workers would “retaliate” by playing the Hanuman Chalisa at a higher volume on loudspeakers placed outside mosques and atop temples.

MNS leaders dissatisfied

Immediately after this speech, many MNS leaders openly expressed dissatisfaction with the statement, claiming he had hurt their religious sentiments. These leaders included MNS Secretary of State Irfan Shaikh, who has reportedly been associated with the party for 17 years. He wrote a touching Facebook post to express his sentiments.

MNS leader Shaibaz Punjabi, who was serving as the Vice President of the Maharashtra Navnirman Vahatuk Sena in Pune City, resigned, citing “Thackeray’s statement about removing loudspeakers from mosques.”

Majid Shaikh, a shakha pramukh (branch head) from Pune City, tendered his resignation along with 30-40 party workers from his ward. “I am resigning from the post because since the last few days, instead of focusing on issues like development, inflation, women empowerment, unemployment, the party is more focused on communalism,” he wrote in his resignation letter to Pune City Unit President Vasant More.

The biggest blow for the MNS came when More himself refused to endorse Thackeray’s call to play the Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers outside mosques. “Many Muslims vote for me,” he said.

On April 7 — after a meeting was held in Mumbai between Raj Thackeray and senior MNS leaders in light of emerging criticism from within the party on the Azan-Hanuman Chalisa issue — More, who has been associated with the MNS since its inception in 2006, was removed from his post. He was not invited to Mumbai for the meeting nor was he informed about the change of leadership. Thackeray elevated More’s junior Sainath Babar to the post of Pune City Unit President.

More returns

More at the time told the media that he would remain within the party and that he was not angry or upset with Thackeray. But, he added, he was confused about what role he should play in the party hereon. A day after his removal, both the NCP and the Shiv Sena reached out to More in an attempt to woo him to join their respective parties.

However, Raj Thackeray invited More to meet him on Monday in Mumbai. After the meeting, More said, “I am 100% satisfied with the interaction…all my doubts have been cleared.” He added: “I had never quit the party. I am loyal to the party and its chief.”

More said that he had been asked by Thackeray to attend April 12 ‘Uttar Rally’ in Thane and had been assured that all his concerns would be addressed by the MNS chief at the rally.

More being retained in the MNS cadre is significant in light of the upcoming Pune Municipal Corporation Polls since he is the only MNS leader to have been elected to the PMC three consecutive times; he is also one of only two MNS corporators currently in the PMC. The other is Babar.

Police action on MNS

Meanwhile, the MNS has been hauled up by the Mumbai Police on two different occasions since his speech. On April 2, a day after Thackeray’s speech, MNS leader Mahendra Bhanushali from Ghatkopar was taken into police custody for playing Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers “without permission”.

“They have taken away my amplifier, but I’d like to say that in the coming times, ‘Jai Shree Ram’ will be played on loudspeakers,” ANI quoted Bhanushali as saying.

On Ram Navami, on Sunday, MNS mounted loudspeakers outside Shiv Sena Bhavan at Dadar and played Hanuman Chalisa and other religious songs. MNS leader Yashwant Killekar was later detained and taken to Shivaji Park Police Station.

All eyes are now on Raj Thackeray’s “Uttar Rally” in Thane. This will be the MNS chief’s first public appearance since Gudi Padwa and he is expected to issue some clarity over the party’s stand over its Hanuman Chalisa diktat. It remains to be seen whether his speech further widens the gap between the MNS cadre and its supporters, or he manages to strike a balance.

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