The Shiv Sena has floated the Muslim Mahasangh to expand its support base in the Thane district. With this, the party hopes to improve its chances in the 2012 civic body elections.
A Sena leader, requesting anonymity, told Business Standard: "The Muslim Mahasangh is currently restricted to Thane and surrounding areas. But it can be replicated in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra if the idea really clicks. The party wants to expose the Congress and other so-called secular parties who use Muslims to play vote-bank politics."
The Sena leader said party chief Bal Thackeray has been consistent on his stand that the Sena is not against the Muslim community, but will continue to oppose elements favouring Pakistan and providing logistics to terrorist outfits in the country.
To drive home his point, the Sena leader said during the Shiv Sena-BJP rule during 1995-99 there were less communal riots. "Thackeray had also made sure that the BJP-Sena government provided all necessary support to the Isthema (religious conference) in 1996 in Mumbai organised by the Muslim community."
"Ironically, Thackeray has always been painted anti-Muslim by his detractors. On the other hand, the Congress and other parties exploited the Muslims and minority groups during elections and left them in the lurch once the elections were over."
However, Congress legislator and the party spokesman for the state unit Hussain Dalwai slammed the Shiv Sena for "remembering the Muslims ahead of the crucial municipal elections".
"This is nothing but vote bank politics. The Shiv Sena has indulged in hatred politics. On the other hand, the Congress-led governments at the Centre and in the state have taken a slew of measures for the betterment of Muslims and other minority communities. The Congress party is committed to do more," said Dalwai.
Munaf Patel, the state NCP general secretary, also criticised SenaÃ¢Â€Â™s move. "How can the party, which claims to be a die-hard supporter of Hindutva, now remember Muslims and minority groups. During communal riots Shiv SenaÃ¢Â€Â™s role has been out in the open."
Patel said successive defeats prompted the Shiv Sena to change its stance. "Sena is worried about division of votes due to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena led by Raj Thackeray and they are desparate to reach out to muslims and other minority groups. However, I do not think the members of the muslim community will fall prey to such tactics."