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Is Shiv Sena changing the goalposts again?

February 21, 2017 09:15 IST

From son of soil to Hindutva and from the BJP to Hardik Patel, the Shiv Sena has changed its stand time to time to reinvent itself, notes Aditi Phadnis.

Ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections (which incidentally features at least one candidate with assets over Rs 680 crore), the Sena broke ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra.

But last we checked, ministers from the Shiv Sena continued to serve in the Union Cabinet. They don't seem to be going anywhere.

The second contradiction is even more stark: The Shiv Sena has reportedly announced -- unilaterally -- that Hardik Patel will be its candidate for the chief ministership of Gujarat following the assembly elections due in late 2017 or early 2018.

Patel, only 23 and therefore not eligible to contest the elections, let alone become chief minister, quickly clarified: 'I am meeting people to seek their support and not to do politics. I have my origins in a humble family. I have come to fight the battle of principles. I come from a rural farmer's family. I don't want to be the CM; I want to be a common man.'

The 'thanks, but no thanks' message was clear and equivocal.

What was interesting was not just Patel's response but also the Shiv Sena's offer.

How things have changed!

The Sena was born after Bal Thackeray, who will always remain a political genius in India, up there with MGR and Mulayam Singh Yadav, spotted a vacuum.

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.

The 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 a rude reality: Though Mumbai was Maharashtra's capital, they were not really in control of it.

Businesses were owned by the Gujaratis, Marwaris and Parsis and white-collar jobs were going to south Indians, who were fluent in English and trained in accountancy and short-hand.

The new rulers of Mumbai, chief ministers and ministers, were not interested in the plight of the urban Maharashtrian youth as their constituencies were in far-flung rural Maharashtra.

Thackeray left his job at The Free Press Journal, where he was a cartoonist, and started a new publication. It was a magazine fashioned on the British magazine Punch. He called it Marmik (apt comment).

Through cartoons, it slowly established itself as a publication that poked fun at non-Maharashtrians: Gujarati seths, south Indian clerks, Udupi hotel owners and Congress politicians among others, creating enduring stereotypes.

Slowly it also started to publish lists of new recruits in public sector undertakings like the SBI, Reserve Bank of India, Air India and LIC to drive home the point that sons of the soil -- Maharashtrians -- were ignored.

This list was provocatively titled 'vacha ani swastha basa' (read and keep quiet)

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

The Shiv Sena became popular in Mumbai, but never went beyond the city and neighbouring Thane, as Maharashtrians in the rest of the state did not see outsiders as a threat.

By the early 1980s the Sena had become a marginal political player even in Mumbai, though its fire power was intact.

So it needed to reinvent itself.

The young Pramod Mahajan and the Sena leadership saw the opportunity.

The Bharatiya Janta Party and the Sena forged an alliance in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections. Although the alliance candidate failed to win a single seat, it garnered sizeable number of votes in Mumbai.

The 1985 Mumbai municipal corporation elections were won by the Sena with a thumping majority -- one which it was not able to achieve even at the height of its anti-south Indian agitation. Chhagan Bhujbal became the mayor of Mumbai.

In 1985, the Sena and the 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 Ramjanmabhoomi agitation and the Shah Bano case and decided to champion the cause of Hindutva.

So the Shiv Sena abandoned the Maharashtra for Maharashtrians slogan and adopted Hindutva.

The short point of a long history lesson: Is the Shiv Sena once again trying to reinvent itself?

And is the invitation to Patel, a new political push that is now caste-centric?

Sena mouthpiece Saamana drew a lot of flak for poking fun at the Maratha caste's demand for reservations by satirising its mook morcha (silent protests). That was an aberration.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Marathas voted for the Shiv Sena in large numbers followed by the Other Backward Classes and Dalits.

In Maharashtra, it makes sense for the Sena to seek and expand its Dalit base, though always conscious that it cannot be at the cost of the Maratha vote.

But in Gujarat, backing Patel means another rupture with the BJP. It means conclusively replacing the Marathi Manoos idea by a pro-Patidar, pro-Maratha appeal.

Although more evidence is needed, the Shiv Sena seems to be changing... again.

IMAGE: Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, left, with his son Aditya Thackeray, the Sena's youth leader, right, and Hardik Patek, centre.

Aditi Phadnis
Source: source
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