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'Shiv Sena won't discard Hindutva so easily'

By HEMANT WAJE
December 31, 2019 09:28 IST

'For the Shiv Sena, Hindutva is like a shawl which can be put on and discarded at will.'

IMAGE: Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray after taking the oath of office in Mumbai, November 28, 2019. Photograph: ANI

"In the 1980s, the Shiv Sena made a very protracted turn towards radical Hindutva which, I think, was born more out of political expediency and the prevailing political situation in the country at that point of time," Dhaval Kulkarni, author of The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of their Senas, tells Rediff.com's Hemant Waje in the concluding segment of a two-part interview.

 

The Maha Vikas Aghadi in its common minimum programme says it is committed to uphold secular values. Does it mean the Sena has dropped its Hindutva identity?

The Shiv Sena was not borne as pro-Hindutva party. It was born as a nativist party.

A party which claimed to espouse and uphold the cause of the Marathi manoos, the sons of the soil in Mumbai.

In the 1980s, the Shiv Sena made a very protracted turn towards radical Hindutva which, I think, was born more out of political expediency and the prevailing political situation in the country at that point of time.

You had the Shah Bano case, you had the Ram Mandir agitation etc.

So in 1987, in the Vile Parle (northwest Mumbai) by-election, Bal Thackeray openly campaigned on the issue of Hindutva.

Dr Ramesh Prabhoo was elected as the Shiv Sena MLA from the constituency.

That is when the Shiv Sena began to be identified with a certain brand of very aggressive militant Hindutva, more aggressive than that of the BJP.

Of course, in the past, the Shiv Sena had entered into skirmishes with the Muslim community -- even with some sections of Christians -- on issues like the Durgadi temple in Thane district, Mahikavati in Raigad district, Haji Malang in Thane.

These incidents happened. But the Shiv Sena turned to radical Hindutva only in the 1980s.

For the BJP, RSS and Sangh Parivar affiliates, Hindutva is almost like the second skin. It's more or less part of their DNA.

But for the Shiv Sena, Hindutva is like a shawl which can be put on and discarded at will.

Of course, I don't think the Shiv Sena will be able to discard Hindutva so easily. They may put it on the back burner, but not discard it.

At the same time, you must understand that the Shiv Sena's Hindutva is very different from the Sanskritised, upper class, upper caste dominated Hindutva of the BJP.

As Uddhav Thackeray will be busy with the government, who will look after the Sena's day to day affairs?

I will begin this answer with an anecdote.

I asked a Shiv Sena leader what prompted (Uddhav Thackeray's elder son) Aaditya's decision to contest (the 2019 assembly election) from Worli.

He told me the Thackeray family does not want to create more Narayan Ranes and Chhagan Bhujbals (Sena leaders who broke away from the party).

What he meant was there was so far a certain diarchy of power within the Sena.

You had the Shiv Sena party organisation, which is controlled by the party chief, and you had the Sena in government where the Thackeray family was not part of the dispensation.

In 1995 and 2014 (the Thackerays was not part of the BJP-Sena governments). This led to clashes.

You had Manohar Joshi as the first Sena chief minister in 1995. There were rumblings about his style of functioning within the party. So he was asked to make way for Narayan Rane in 1999.

Rane later fell out with the Shiv Sena leadership.

We must understand that the Sena is not a typical run-of-the-mill political party. So when this party is in government, it is inevitable that there will be a certain clash between the organisation and the government.

There will be some dissenting voices. These can be kept in check if the party chief heads the government.

At the same time, this will also prevent instances like Narayan Rane, who were initially propped up by the Thackeray family to lead the government, developing aspirations of their own and fomenting a rebellion against the party.

This decision, despite its many challenges, actually kills many birds with one stone.

Will the Thackeray cousins ever come together?

It is true that Raj attended Uddhav's swearing in.

But you must understand that the differences between them are not just political which can be solved.

They are also personal differences.

There is personal competition between the two.

Political differences are easy to solve, but the same cannot be said about personal differences.

Reconciliation at the moment seems difficult.

Such attempts were made in the past. Bal Thackeray also blessed these attempts like the one in 2010. But reconciliation looks very difficult.

The Shiv Sena is comfortably placed. I see no reason why they would enter into a truck with the MNS (Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) at this point of time.

Videos: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

There are reports that Rashmi Thackeray, Uddhav's wife and Aaditya's mother, is a significant decision maker in the Thackeray household.

Rashmi Thackeray has played a very significant role in her husband's political life and career.

She is indeed a political force to reckon with.

Those who have interacted with her say she is very sharp when it comes to taking political decisions.

Aaditya's decision to contest from Worli and the Sena's decision to walk out of its alliance with the BJP may have Rashmi's hand behind the scenes. That is my guess, my personal hunch.

What about Sanjay Raut (the Sena's Rajya Sabha MP and executive editor of the Sena's daily newspaper Saamna)?

Sanjay Raut has always been pro-Sharad Pawar and also very anti-BJP.

So yes, in a sense, Sanjay Raut is the man of the match because he was the one leading the charge against the BJP through his daily shayari on Twitter.

Who do you think Uddhav will rely on during his tenure as chief minister? Sharad Pawar, Ashok Chavan or Manohar Joshi?

Sharad Pawar will, of course, be the remote control of this government, which was very apparent right from day one, even before the government was sworn in.

He will rely extensively on Rashmi Thackeray. She is said to have a very astute political sense, people who have interacted with her have told me.

She is very sharp. She has a very good political sense.

He will also rely on Subhash Desai. He is the only member of Bal Thackeray's core team who has been retained by Uddhav in a senior role.

Manohar Joshi has more or less has retired from politics.

How will Uddhav tackle the BJP, which is always ready to break state governments?

In this case, the glue that brought them together is keeping them together.

As some very optimistic Congress leaders told me, power, the need for power and the need to keep the BJP away from power in Maharashtra will keep them together.

The Mumbai municipal election is due in 2022. Will the Sena contest the election in an alliance with the NCP and the Congress, a three-party front against the BJP?

It's very difficult to answer that question because we don't know how events will shape up in the coming years.

From what I know, the BJP has already started preparing for the election. So the Shiv Sena has a very tough fight on its hands.

Does Ajit Pawar still retain his nuisance value for the government?

The last word on that sordid early morning swearing-in and the entire drama has not yet been said.

Several things happened behind the scenes that are not yet in the public domain, that are not spoken about.

There are lots of Chinese whispers doing the rounds.

Considering that Ajit Pawar controls the loyalty of a section of the NCP legislature party, it won't be so easy for his uncle to neglect his claims for the deputy chief minister's post.

So yes, Uddhav Thackeray will have to watch out for Ajit Pawar who has a record for being extremely impulsive.

 
HEMANT WAJE / Rediff.com
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