A BJP leader in Maharashtra has offered to bankroll loudspeakers to play the Hanuman Chalisa in public places, fanning a fractious campaign against the Azaan – the Islamic call to prayer – championed by right-wing political leaders.
“Anyone who needs a loudspeaker to install it in a temple can ask us for free! All Hindus should have one voice! Jai Shri Ram! Har Har Mahadev!” Mohit Kamboj, a billionaire bullion trader and among the richest BJP leaders, tweeted.
The offer comes as the BJP and the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) intensify a call to ban loudspeakers playing the Azaan from mosques.
MNS leaders in several parts of Maharashtra have taken to playing the Hanuman Chalisa from loudspeakers after a call-to-arms by Raj Thackeray at a rally in Mumbai over the weekend on the occasion of the Marathi New Year festival Gudi Padwa.
Timed just ahead of the elections for India’s richest municipal body – the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation or BMC – the controversy could help the MNS and the BJP corner the Shiv Sena which rules Maharashtra in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.
While Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray was among the earliest proponents of banning the loudspeakers outside mosques that send out prayer calls five times a day, the party has softened its hard-line Hindutva stance, especially after forming the coalition in 2019.
However, Raj Thackeray, who broke away from the party in 2005 after a rift with Bal Thackeray’s son and now Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, has maintained the hard-line position.
Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil of the NCP has criticised the latest provocations, saying the statements are aimed at dividing society.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut too hit out at the BJP and MNS. “Raj Thackeray was talking about taking down the loudspeakers installed in mosques yesterday. First, see in which all BJP ruled states Azaan has been stopped, loudspeakers removed from mosques… This is Maharashtra, where law of the land is followed,” he said on Sunday.
Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi, meanwhile, has taken a curious stance on the controversy, launching a juice stall, claiming that Muslims are ready to welcome people playing Hanuman Chalisa and will be offering them drinks.