After five decades of existence, the Shiv Sena's support base seems to be shifting towards the rural electorate but there it has to contend with the network of Sharad Pawar and the BJP. Sanjay Jog & Aditi Phadnis report.
Few know that whether in government with the Shiv Sena or out of it, Bharatiya Janata Party senior Murli Manohar Joshi never shared a stage with any of the former's leaders. He was clear: He supported the Constitution and the Shiv Sena had, by its actions, indicated it did not.
His BJP might be in alliance with the Sena because of political compulsions but Joshi was clear he would never appear on the same platform with a party that thought nothing of thumbing its nose at the document that has kept India together.
Joshi is now on the fringes of politics. Bal Thackeray is dead. The Shiv Sena has split, a smaller section with Raj Thackeray. And, after contesting the Lok Sabha elections together, the BJP and the Sena did something that could not have been imagined five years ago -- they decided to part ways for the Maharashtra assembly elections.
Who fired the first shot is not clear. However, some plain talking by Narendra Modi after he became prime minister resulted in a sulky Sena accepting one portfolio, of Union minister for heavy industries (occupied by Anant Geete), asking for but not getting a second one.
Then came the Maharashtra assembly elections. Riding on the Modi wave, the BJP succeeded in emerging as the single largest party, after a prolonged and painful internal debate about whether it should leave the comfortable cocoon of the alliance and make a bid to establish itself, independent of its boisterous and sometimes obstreperous ally.
And, while the Sena won 63 seats in the 288-seat legislature, the plank it fought on differed from constituency to constituency.
So, is the world looking at a new or refurbished Sena that is on the ascendance? Or is it a force that, having reached a zenith under Bal Thackeray, is now dwindling? And, is simulating sound and fury to mask this? A rising political party or a declining political philosophy, struggling to stay relevant?
An analysis of the Maharashtra assembly election result is useful.
Forget all the fine-tuned calculation that the alliance's architect, Pramod Mahajan, entered into when the BJP decided to tie up with the Sena. The 2014 assembly election yielded many home truths that should prompt the Sena to worry.
The BJP took away 12 seats that were with the Sena in the previous assembly. And, of 52 seats where the two were in direct competition, the BJP won 32, some in places considered bastions of the Sena.
The conventional wisdom is that the Sena was born on the "Maharashtra for Maharashtrians" slogan.
Offering to protest the interests of "local" Maharashtrians from threats posed by migrant communities such as the UP and Bihari "bhaiyas", the Gujaratis and the Kannadigas, especially the Shettys. The fact is that from 1966 (when it was born) to about the mid-1980s, Maharashtrians outside Mumbai and neighbouring Thane never saw outsiders as a threat.
So, the Sena's influence was limited to these two areas, may be in some more urban centres such as Pune, Nagpur and Solapur (but much later).
Actually, in the 1980s, the Shiv Sena saw its influence decline even in Mumbai. Until the Congress helped to resurrect it by spreading rumours that Mumbai could be separated from Maharashtra. The 1985 Bombay Municipal Corporation elections were won by the Shiv Sena with a thumping majority, one it was not able to achieve even at the height of its anti-South Indian agitation.
If evidence was needed that the Sena was an urban party, it was there.
With the BMC under its belt, the strength defined its political growth: Mumbai and surrounding areas were the first to outsource and privatise development activity. The state had to be bypassed in providing many services.
The Shiv Sainik filled this breach, 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. With swelling collections, the BMC was a useful animal to control.
In years past, the "remote control" was said to be in Bal Thackeray's hand. Despite the relentless references to and demonstrations of the supreme command of Bal Thackeray, the shakhas of the Shiv Sena were given a degree of autonomy in the activities and services they offered. Julia Eckert, an expert on the Sena, observed in an article that it was left to the shakhas to create their clientele through the services offered locally.
More, they were responsible for the funding of their respective activities -- the collection of donations and protection money.
The shakhas functioned autonomously in their everyday activities, guided by a certain general directive concerning the types of activities, their overall intent and the line of justification and explanation, given out through party organ Saamna and through Bal Thackeray's speeches. This enabled them to create structures of power, control revenue, and the command over a local clientele that was mobilised when the party demanded it.
Later, the Sena changed and so did Maharashtra society. It found some traction in Marathwada, gaining from the space vacated by Sharad Pawar in merging his Congress (S) and returning to the Congress fold in 1986.
The youth from Marathwada who joined the Sena were mostly from upper caste Maratha or other backward classes, lumpens left out or marginalised by Congress' politics of cooperative institutions.
Aggressive posturing on Hindutva and the active role played by the Sena in the 1992-93 riot and blasts helped it revive and extend its support base in Mumbai. Many non-Maharashtrian communities such as the Gujaratis, North Indians and Kannadigas helped the Sena win 31 assembly seats out of 32 in Mumbai during the 1995 elections.
Now, cut to the 2014 elections. Uddhav Thackeray's wielding of the "remote control" is not being questioned by his party -- yet. The Sena has lost in unexpected constituencies and won in others, too. This suggests the party's base is changing. If it doesn't keep pace with this change, it could become irrelevant.
For example, in Pune, Nagpur and Nashik, considered the state's three biggest urban areas, the BJP won all eight seats in Pune and all six in Nagpur. It won three of four seats in Nashik. The Sena was nowhere. Local newspapers quoted BJP sources that of the 92 seats in Maharashtra's urban areas, 52 had been won by the party. In Mumbai, the BJP won 15 seats against the Sena's 14. Of 16 core urban seats in Thane, six went to the BJP and four to the Sena.
So, the base of the Shiv Sena was changing, possibly becoming more rural, while the BJP was making strides in urban areas. Extrapolate this with the Sena's rhetoric and its interventions.
It has been vocal on a range of issues -- corruption, inflation, especially of essential commodities, government apathy towards farmers, cross-border terrorism and attacks on Dalit and other communities. While it has been behaving as the opposition while being in government, its interventions have been of the attention-grabbing variety, not of the growing its rural base variety.
Take some recent examples. The party took credit for activists smearing ink on Sudheendra Kulkarni or forcing organisers to cancel Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali's programme.
It led the demonstrations against talks between the Indian and Pakistani cricket boards.
Uddhav Thackeray felicitated the six Shiv Sainiks who threw ink on Kulkarni, while attacking the state government for providing police protection to the book release function of Pakistan's former foreign affairs minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
These are all largely urban concerns.
But, it is rural Maharashtra that is riven by a crisis. And, rural Maharashtra continues to be dominated by the network of Sharad Pawar on the one hand and the BJP on the other.
So, where is the space for the Shiv Sena? An uncomfortable existential question it is fighting to answer.