NEW DELHI: The proposal of Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to rename Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar has driven a wedge between ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) partners – the Shiv Sena and the Congress.
The Congress has strongly objected to Thackeray’s move to rename Aurangabad, named after Mughal ruler Aurangzeb who spent his last days in the city, to Sambhajinagar – after Sambhaji, Sena’s idol king Shivaji Maharaj’s son.
State revenue minister and Congress state president Balasaheb Thorat is on record saying that the party was strongly against renaming Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar. “Our party does not believe in changing names of places. It was never a part of the Common Minimum Programme of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government,” Thorat had said.
However, Uddhav Thackeray ignored the Congress’s objection. “Aurangzeb was not secular. Our common minimum programme had secular words as an agenda and Aurangazeb doesn’t fit into that definition,” he said.
Despite the different stands over the issue, the MVA partners are taking care not to disturb the government’s equilibrium. Efforts are being made to iron out the differences in the interest of running the coalition government for now.
These are the reasons why Uddhav Thackeray is adamant on changing the name of Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar.
1. Forthcoming civic elections
Elections to the municipal corporations of Navi Mumbai, Aurangabad, Vasai-Virar, Kalyan-Dombivli and Kolhapur are due later this year. Besides, elections are also to be held in two zilla parishads, 13 municipal councils and 83 nagar panchayats in the coming months. The Shiv Sena is upping its ante in view of these elections.
2. To compete with old ally-turned-rival BJP
Both the Shiv Sena and its old NDA alliance partner the BJP practise Hindutva politics. Their voter constituencies overlap. The BJP is a national ruling party and is more closely associated with Hindutva politics. Moreover, the BJP had started off as Shiv Sena’s junior partner in the civic, assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra. But slowly and gradually, it overtook the Shiv Sena and emerged as the largest party in terms of seats won in most of these elections. The Shiv Sena is out to compete with the BJP in Hindutva and retrieve its lost position. Therefore, it has resorted to ‘renaming’ politics.
3. Dominance in Maha Vikas Aghadi
The Sena aims at having an upper hand over the other two MVA coalition partners – the Congress and Sharad Pawar-led Nationaliost Congress Party (NCP) – keeping in view the future elections and politics of the state. The renaming proposal of Aurangabad is a test case for the Sena in that direction. It is testing the waters within the MVA as to the extent to which the other two alliance partners would bear with it.
4. Fulfilling Bal Thackeray’s dream
The controversy over renaming of the city is over three decades old. In 1988, Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray had made the proposal for the first time to rename Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar. In June 1995, the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation, ruled jointly by the BJP and the Sena, passed a resolution in its general body meeting to rename the city.
The then chief minister Manohar Joshi, heading the Shiv Sena-BJP coalition government, issued a notification renaming the city as Sambhajinagar. The move was challenged by a Congress corporator in the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court but was rejected. The corporator, however, moved the Supreme Court.
Uddhav is now seeking to fulfill a dream and decision of his father and party founder.
5. Long-term objective
Both the BJP and the Shiv Sena are competing for the Hindu votes through their Hindutva brand of politics. While the renaming bid of Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar is aimed at the forthcoming civic elections, the Sena raking up other emotive issues in the future to achieve a larger objective cannot be denied. The Sena may use the Hindutva agenda to compete with the BJP in the next assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
No wonder, the BJP has attacked the Shiv Sena over the renaming issue.
BJP Maharashtra unit president Chandrakant Patil said renaming Aurangabad was not a political issue for the party but a matter of faith. “Even Balasaheb himself was of the opinion that the name should be changed. We are not bothered with the differences of opinion between the Congress and Shiv Sena. We want the Shiv Sena to stay true to the demand made by Balasaheb.”
The BJP also seems to be gearing up for more such challenges by its former alliance partner.