Shiv Sena and the loss of relevance

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February 13th, 2010 Aditi Phadnis

In 1966, when Prabodhankar (a person who spreads the light of knowledge) Keshav Thackeray, who was a leading light of Maharashtra’s social reform movement, announced at a mammoth rally at Mumbai’s historic Shivaji Park, “I am offering my Bal for the cause of Maharashtra,”  Prabodhankar could not have imagined that his son one day would rule the state through his famous remote control, a man who would arouse curiosity, passion and hate across the nation.

The hangover of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement (Movement for United Maharashtra) which created the modern linguistic state of Maharashtra in 1960 had started to subside.

Marathi youth of Mumbai, who courted arrest and zealously participated in the movement to create Samyukta Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital, were waking up to the rude awaking that though Mumbai was Maharashtra’s capital they were not really in control of it.

Businesses were owned by  Gujaratis, Marwaris and Parsees and white collar jobs were going to South Indians, who were fluent in English and trained in accountancy and short-hand. And the new rulers of Mumbai, chief ministers and ministers were not interested in their plight as their constituencies were in far flung rural Maharashtra.

Bal Thackeray, a cartoonist who had walked out of Free Press Journal in a huff in the late 1950s in protest against the management’s stand that Mumbai should be a centrally governed city state, sensed this void and decided to launch a magazine dedicated to cartoons along with his musician brother Shrikant, the father of Raj. The magazine, which was fashioned on the British magazine Punch, was called Marmik (apt comment) and it started poking fun at Gujrati Seths, South Indian clerks, Udupi Hotel owners  and Congress politicians among others – creating enduring steorotypes.

Down the line it also started to publish lists of new recruits in public sector undertakings like SBI, Reserve Bank of India, Air India and LIC  to drive home how sons of the soil were ignored. This list was titled provocatively “Vacha ani swastha Basa” (read and keep quiet).

Marmik’s runaway success attracted a large number of Marathi youth to Thackeray and finally culminated in launch of Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966.

In the first ever public meeting at which Thackeray  listed out his hate objects, interestingly Communists got top billing.  

Thackeray’s pathological hatred of Communists was a handy tool to Congress rulers who wanted to break the stranglehold of Communist and Socialist trade unions in public sector undertakings as well as the private sector in the country’s financial capital.

In fact, Thackeray and then chief minister of the state, Vasantrao Naik, shared so close a relationship that Thackeray’s party was jokingly called Vasant Sena in the state’s political circle.

Because of this, the investigation of the murder, in broad daylight, of  CPI MLA, Krishna Desai never reached its logical conclusion. Some lower rung Sainiks were arrested and a few got convicted.

But Thackeray’s Shiv Sena never grew beyond Mumbai and neighbouring Thane as Maharashtrians in the rest of Maharashtra did not see outsiders as a threat.

In fact, by the early 1980s Sena had even became marginal political player in Mumbai although its fire power was intact.

But once again, Congress chief minister Vasantdada Patil gave a lease of life to Sena. Patil, who wanted to settle scores with then Congress’s Mumbai unit chief Murali Deora, spoke about a conspiracy being hatched to separate Mumbai from the state.

The result  was obvious. The 1985 Mumbai municipal corporation elections were won by the Sena with a thumping majority – a majority that it was not able to achieve even at the height of its anti-South Indian agitation. Chhagan Bhujbal became the Mayor of Mumbai.

Sena, which had alliances with political parties right from the Praja Socialist Party, the Janata Party and even the Muslim League had an alliance with new born Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections.

Although the alliance candidate fail to win a single seat, it garnered sizeable votes in Mumbai. But again, in 1985, Sena and BJP parted ways and contested assembly elections independently.

By this time Thackeray, who had started nursing pan Maharashtra ambitions, sensed popular Hindu polarisation in the country in the wake of the Ramjanmabhumi agitation and the infamous Shahbano case and decided to champion the cause of Hindutva.

And the young general secretary of the BJP, Pramod Mahajan, realised if they teamed up with Sena which had a charismatic leader like Thackeray at the helm of affairs, the two parties could break the Congress monopoly over power in the state. Thus after lot of persuasion Thackeray agreed to contest  the 1989 Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the BJP.

The alliance was not without its pitfalls. Mahajan had to use his persuasive skills more with the Sangh and BJP leadership who saw Sena as an organisation of ruffians of little use outside Mumbai. In fact, few know that to this day, BJP leader and former President Dr Murli Manohar Joshi does not share a podium with the Shiv Sena because he feels they are against the Constitution of India.

Apart from the Hindutva plank, the opposition space vacated by Sharad Pawar who had merged his Congress (S) and returned to the Congress fold in 1986 helped Thackeray to spread his party in Marathwada and other regions of the state.

The youth from Marathwada who joined Sena were mostly from upper caste Maratha or Other Backward Classes (OBC)  but not from the elite 96 Kuli (96 families) or Deshmukh Marathas that form the core of Congress politics in the state. These were lumpen youth who were left out or marginalised by Congress’s politics of cooperative institutions.

Chhagan Bhujbal, an important OBC leader from the state, helped Sena bring OBC youth from across the state to Sena’s fold.  However, after the 1990 assembly election, the post of leader of opposition went to Manohar Joshi who went  on to become first non-Congress chief minister of the state and speaker of the Lok Sabha.  Hurt, Bhujbal waited for an opportunity and crossed the floor on the issue of Sena’s opposition to the Mandal commission.

This was a major setback for Sena but the polarised atmosphere which followed the 1992-93 Mumbai riots and blasts, helped Sena to ride to power with its alliance partner in the 1995 Lok Sabha elections.

Aggressive posturing on Hindutva and the active role played by Sena in these riots helped Sena to extend its support base in Mumbai.  Many non-Maharashtrian communities such as Gujaratis, North Indians and Kannadigas helped Sena win 31 assembly seats out of 32 in Mumbai during 1995 election.

Besides taking bold and aggressive positions on the sons of soil issue and Hindutva, its brand of Robin Hood style of politics also helped Sena to gain popularity among the masses.

Shiv Sainik stood between the citizen and corruption, made things work and offered protection in a variety of ways. Nothing is free, so petty criminalisation and extortion lubricated the vast and complex shakha machinery. But by the mid-1980s, the collections of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) were beginning to swell. At the same time, privatisation of development meant the state had to be bypassed in providing many services, in a practical manner. The Shiv Sena filled this breach. 
The rise of the Shiv Sena as a major political force across the state also heralded the rise of the second generation of Thackerays on the political scene.

The 1990s election saw Raj hitting the camping trail and people immediately realized that here was a chip off the old block.

For Swarraj aka Raj Thackeray it was always ‘ like uncle like nephew’, especially because most of his childhood and adolescence years were spent at his uncle’s house at Bandra.

For Raj, Balasaheb’s house was second home as not only were Bal and Shrikant  brothers but his mother Kundatai and Balasaheb’s wife Meenatai were sisters.

Raj was launched in politics by floating the party’s students wing called the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena (ABVS).  By 1995, when the party came to power Raj had established himself as youth leader and crowd puller.

Around the same time Raj’s cousin and Balasaheb’s son Uddhav, Sena’s current working president, was trying to find a foothold in politics. However Uddhav was a reluctant politician, spurred into taking bigger role in the family business by his wife Rashmi.  
How things change. Today the retiring Uddhav is firmly in command of his party, the Shiv Sena’s apparatus, surefooted and calculating, ensuring all future threats – whether it is Narayan Rane, the uncrowned king of the Konkan region in Maharashtra who was thrown out of Shiv Sena; or his cousin Raj who has recently launched the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS) – represent no challenge to his leadership of the party.

The rift between once inseparable duo of Dadu (Uddhav) and Sonu (Raj)  began with Sena’s rise to power. Within two years of installing Sena’s chief minister at Mantralya, Balasaheb had lost wife Meenatai and elder son Bindumadha. The family patriarch started depending heavily upon Uddhav.

The organisation succeeded so long as there was Balasaheb Thackeray - larger than life, loved, feared, and revered. But he chose his son Uddhav, rather than his nephew Raj, as his formal successor. In this, Thackeray acted predictably and conventionally. He disappointed a lot of his followers. The most important of them, Narayan Rane quit the Sena and spoke out against the infallible Thackeray himself. Raj Thackeray - acknowledged to be the ‘mason’ of the Sena while Uddhav has always been considered the ‘architect’ - also walked out. Confused, the Shiv Sainiks began questioning their leadership and its ideology. Suddenly everything was negotiable. 

When faced with a setback - electoral or political - the Sena’s answer is violence. When they lost the Lok Sabha elections in 1998, Sainiks stormed the concert of Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali, they renewed their attacks on painter MF Hussain for painting nude pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and supported the ransacking of his house by the Bajrang Dal, the youth organisation of the VHP. Sainiks dug up the ground in the Ferozshah Kotla stadium in Delhi prior to a cricket match with Pakistan. They also threatened to attack the newly established bus link between Delhi and Lahore which Prime Minister Vajpayee had just inaugurated. 

But that was all in the past. Uddhav was in charge. Raj, his cousin, couldn’t take it anymore. He left the party and launched his own outfit, the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS).

In terms of personality the two are as different as chalk from cheese. Uddhav lacks the charisma, the firebrand oratory and the devil-may-care attitude of his father and cousin Raj. But he overcomes these handicap by being a studious, meticulous planner and hard working politician. 

When Bal Thackeray decided to turn his party from a Maharashtrian to a Hindu outfit, his instincts paid off. He could sense the popular mood in the country and state and exploited it to the hilt to expand the party across the state.  

However, when Uddhav led the party’s popular agitations on issues like  loan waiver, long hours of power cut and crumbling urban infrastructure, it was the result of a well thought out strategy to use popular anti-government sentiment against the government.

The BMC election in 2007 and subsequent victories in municipal elections elsewhere in the state have had the average Shiv Sainik bow their head in deference to Uddhav. But the 2009 Assembly elections saw the Sena lose serious electoral ground to Raj.

This is the key to understand the My Name Is Khan controversy: it is not Shahrukh Khan, and other mishmash of trivial issues. It is the Shiv sena Parivar seeking relevance.

26 Votes | Average: 4.81 out of 526 Votes | Average: 4.81 out of 526 Votes | Average: 4.81 out of 526 Votes | Average: 4.81 out of 526 Votes | Average: 4.81 out of 5 (26 votes, average: 4.81 out of 5)
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8 Responses to “Shiv Sena and the loss of relevance”

  1. Karan A Says:

    It was very informative. History well narrated. The Thackerays have championed the “Divide and Rule” policy, to it best. I strongly believe in democracy and only merit should decide admissions in schools, colleges and industries. Nothing should be for free lunch for anybody, just because they took birth in that particular caste/religion/state!

  2. Narayan Says:

    Dear Thakreys,
    Do you people think that Lata Mangeshkar & Asha Bhosle Should stop singing Hindi Songs, to maintain the “ASHMITA” of Maharashtra , Marathi & Marathi Manush ?

  3. Sachin Says:

    This seems to be a neutral article though at times slightly deferential - I suppose it is almost impossible to write anything non-sympathetic against the sena without being called unpatriotic. Aditi’s article is very informative in the history of the sena and converges to the conclusion that Sena’s activities are all about gaining relevance. It does say that under pressure Sena resorts to violence but Aditi has held back from judging that tactic.
    I think the issues that Sena concerns about is all fine - they are representating the voice of some of the people and have every right to drum up an issue even it is for political gain. That is politics and so not an issue even if many of us do not agree with the stand that the Sena takes on issues. It does behave in my view like a moral police and given its violent ways is comparable to the taliban. And there lies the issue. Sena is not a taliban of India for the stand it takes on the issues and its hindutva heavy politics but for its behaviour while pushing those ideologies. The violence and the imposition of its views with force is completely against the democratic functioning. That is what makes it a taliban. Imagine taliban being a political force that is conservative, believes in the islamic law - the sharia but does not force it when it is not in power. Or makes laws that get passed thru democratic politics - does not kill people who oppose it. They would be less of an object of scorn. People may not agree with their views but they will not be out to eliminate it from the face of earth. There in lies the future of Sena - they need to get into line with the democratic organization of India. Come to power thru democratic means - find that majority public support for your view by doing that. Propose whatever you think is right and get it passed as law. Do not break offices and hurt people who oppose your views. Respond to them in civil ways and emerge victorious thru dialogue and by winning votes in the future and you are good. But until then even Aditi should stop being deferential and say what is right or wrong on Sena’s part. Express whether she loves the ways Sena behaves, or is critical of them - say something unless you are holding back from fear of course!!

  4. yashashwi marathi Says:

    Aditi has provided her analysis in an articulate way. The educated Marathi youth from Brahmin, CKP/Pathare Prabhu, Saraswat and a few other communities are doing very well in Maharashtra and outside India in the private sector as employees and employers. It is the Marathi population in Mumbai outside these three castes, for most part, that has to rely on government jobs that are getting scarce. The children of mill workers were left to fend for themselves and were clearly ill-equipped because of the comcomitancy of dependecy on labor unions and lack of a well grounded education. Shiv Sena and its splinter groups will continue to represent this shrinking population. Marathi youth has to realize that they are their own “Waali” and a political solution does not exist for an economic problem.
    Jai Maharashtra

  5. Mumbaite Says:

    First, a really in-depth account of the rise and fall of the Shiv Sena. A job well done. Whats really missing is the approach that Bal T. adopted to get the people to warm up to him. Slogans like “Lungi Bhagao, Pungi bajao” (against South Indians then) are eerily similar to what Raj is doing these days. Hooligans then, hooligans now. Sadly the approach is still pretty effective today, endorsed by the seats that MNS ‘won’ during the recent elections and by Ghati’s comments above.
    The handful of maharashtrians who support Raj do this because they have nowhere to go. There is no single leader in Maharashtra right now who can command respect and has the guts to practise what he preaches. When it comes to standing up for something, you usually hear “Maru de. mala kaay” (I dont care) attitude. People who launch mass attacks on poor shop owners on Feb 14th every year are the same ones who organized the Michael Jackson concert. The proceeds of which were to be used for helping the Marathi youth. I dont see how it has helped so far. What it has done (implicitly), is helped Raj and Manohar Joshi purchase mill land for a whopping 400+ crore.
    Raj doesnt stand up to anybody. Hes just plain smart. When Sena was chopping its own head with the recent controversies, he just sat back and smiled. If a guy like him becomes the CM even in the nes 50 years, it will certainly send a shiver down my spine and a tear down my eye. Mumbai is sadly a dying city. I currently live outside Maharashtra and its really sad to hear that people everywhere are so vocal against Maharashtrians in general and people from there are seen with a jaundiced eye.
    “Ohh..are you from Maharashtra? You a Maharashtrian? Dont beat me up please, its not my fault that I cant speak Marathi, I just dont need to” Even non-maharashtrians from Mumbai are so averse to learning/speaking Marathi now. Its sad that these flag-bearers from Mumbai have deftly managed to alienate the state and people from the rest of the nation. The state who is responsible for nurturing people like Tendulkar, Gavaskar, Tendulkar(the playwright), Amol Palekar, Mangeshkars, Phalke is now bearing the brunt of hate around the nation because of a few goons and my dear friend, Ghati wants them to be on the helm. Apart from Kirloskar, I cant thing of any Maharashtrian who has managed to create employment like Reliance, Tatas, Bajaj etc in the state. 90% of the retail shops (mom and pop stores) are owned by the Marwari community. Hell, even the Zunka-Bhakar thingy is actually owned by non-maharashtrians. WHAT HAS THE SHIV SENA or MNS DONE FOR MUMBAI OR MAHARASHTRIANS? is one question that every proud Marathi should ask.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    One thing needs to be decided before all squabble ends. Are the residents of India born in India “Indians” or whatever else they want to be first. Once they make the choice, they should declare it so people know how to treat them for taxes and their rights. If the people of India cannot be united as one then it is time to divide the country and let the chips fall they way they do.

  7. Smart Alec Says:

    I’m afraid Pucca Ghati, you’ve got it all wrong. While I have tremendous respect for the Marathis, everybody’s uncle knows that it was the Parsees, the Gujaratis, Marwadis and other communities that made Bombay. The city has always been known for its cosmopolitan nature and it is this that Raj Thackeray is trying to destroy… and in doing so, the biggest losers will be the Maharashtrians, not anybody else. Dont you remember how Kelloggs Biz school decided to get out of Maharashtra and go to AP instead? What will happen to the millions of working Maharashtrians if all the industries, including Bollywood shift base? The less said about the Thackerays, the better. They have, at various times, targetted one community or another. If it was the South Indians in the 1960s, it was the Gujaratis later, and the Muslims still later. Now it is the turn of the North Indians. Tomorrow it just might be the bengalis. Do Raj, Uddhav and Balasaheb know what they want? They seemed pretty confused

  8. Pucca Ghati Says:

    Aditi Phadnis , like a good Maharashtrian , is meticulous in her analysis , most times , here she is a trifle too detailed . However this is the best summary or bullet of the Sena that I have read . The Sena is no different from the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar / DMK / Akalis . A regional party dominated by a family . The reason why even Ox-bridge or MIT Maharashtrians support Raj is simple : He stands up to Delhi and the non-Maharashtrian mafia and the Bombay cosmopolitan nonsense ,which is nothing but apartheid by another name ! Raj as CM - I hope it come about within the next five years - will send a shiver down Delhi’s spine and the non-Marathi in Mumbai trying to ram Hindi and their genetic superiority down our throat . If he doesn’t and is compromised like Bal , he will be discarded like his Bollywood Sena Uncle , or his photographer cousin Uddhav .


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