Friday, December 11, 2015

Shiv Sena - Completing Fifty

Shiv Sena will be turning 50 next year. Of these 50 years, for the first twenty odd years, it was not known outside Mumbai and Thane. 

Some background is necessary to understand why Shiv Sena was born and brought up primarily in Mumbai. The state of Maharashtra came into being in 1960. It was not a natural birth; it was much worse than a complex caesarian operation. Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) city was the bone of contention. A big and powerful lobby was dead against awarding Mumbai to Maharashtra though geography and history indicated it. The lobby proposed making Mumbai a Union Territory, if it couldn’t be given to Gujarat. Finally after 105 people died in various police firings, Mumbai had to be included in Maharashtra. On the south border of the new state, the Mahajan Commission Report made Belgaum a festering wound that still is incurable and inoperable. Some part near the northern border was awarded to Gujarat, when the populace expected it to be a part of Maharashtra. 

In the 50’s and 60’s, the Dravida movements in Tamil Nadu had started making life hell for the Tamil Brahmins, who started migrating outside the state. Mumbai was one major magnet. Slowly Tamils started cornering all the white collar clerical jobs in Mumbai. All this was used very effectively by Bal Thakare to generate a persecution complex in the minds of the Marathi manoos (Marathi population). Shiv Sena was supposed to be a party of the Marathi people for Marathi people. Outside Mumbai, everybody was Marathi; so Shiv Sena’s strategy of consolidating Marathi votebank against ‘outsiders’ couldn’t work. And anyways, Mumbai was a rich city; it made business sense to stick to Mumbai Municipal Corporation and local employee unions. This continued for a couple of decades. 

When the party was semi-established in Mumbai and surrounding areas, a needy BJP came to Shiv Sena for an alliance. Pramod Mahajan is considered to be the architect of this alliance. With the help of this strategic alliance and with some astute hard-working leaders (Chagan Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik, Narayan Rane, Diwakar Rawte, Moreshwar Save et al) it surged ahead. Before it turned 30, it was in power (in coalition with BJP) in Maharashtra. 

But then it started going haywire. Founder Bal Thakare, like every other human being, was not getting any younger. He was 40 when he started the organization. So as he crossed 70, he found it increasingly difficult to maintain the same fervor and viciousness. More difficult was maintaining a power balance within his home between his son and nephew. Finally nephew Raj Thakre moved out and tried to create his own identity. 

Bal Thakre died when he was 86. Shiv Sena was still struggling to get in power. Within a couple of years after Thakre’s death, Shiv Sena got into power at the center riding piggyback on the Modi wave. But the bonhomie didn’t last for long. Modi or Amit Shah were not Pramod Mahajan and more importantly, Uddhav Thakre is not Bal Thakre. Pramod Mahajan used to keep the BJP-SS tie-up intact by pampering the senior Thakre as needed. And Bal Thakre knew when to take out the claws, when to just growl and when to purr. Till then, BJP was undeniably a ‘junior’ partner in the tie-up. But Modi-Shah duo changed the situation. For the state elections, BJP dissolved the partnership. BJP became the single largest party, winning almost twice the seats that SS won. But it was still twenty odd short of simple majority of 145 in the 288 member assembly. 

Rather than coming together with old partner SS, BJP continued to ‘wait and watch’. The most opportunist wheeler-dealer ever, Sharad Pawar promptly declared support to BJP government for ‘stability’. BJP neither took the support nor denied it. After keeping SS on tenterhooks for a couple of months, BJP took SS back, but giving it much less than what SS expected. SS has been in a tizzy since then. Raj Thakre’s MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) managed to win only one seat in this assembly, so his challenge can be said to be mitigated for now. MNS was most detrimental to SS as it shared same cadre and same brand name. 

But SS continues to be uncertain about its role – is it in opposition, in government or in limbo? To come out of its self-induced stupor, SS delivers knee-jerk reactions without provocation. It supported Sanatan Sanstha when one of its ‘disciples’ faced a murder rap. Then fielded over 100 candidates in Bihar elections. Contrary to popular expectations, it polled about two lakh votes. To put this in perspective, it polled more votes than MIM or NCP. Before the election results unfolded, SS disrupted Ghulam Ali’s proposed programs in Mumbai and Pune. Reason – no Pakistani artist will be allowed to perform in India, because Pakistan has been butchering our soldiers and supporting cross-border terrorism and so on. Irony is multifold. Ghulam Ali was not going to perform for some ‘Muslim’, but to pay homage to a Hindu Singler Jagjit Singh. Secondly, when India-Pak armies were nervously staring at each other across the border, Pakistan cricketer Javed Miandad visited Bal Thakre and was very cordially received. (Javed Miandad’s son later married Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter.) Thirdly, SS, which claims to be so bitter about Pakistan and Pakistani people, very meekly accepted when Modi invited Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif for Modi government’s swearing in. Uddhav Thakre attended the swearing in and his ministers joined the government. SS thinks Ghulam Ali is more responsible Pak sponsored terrorism than PM Nawaz Sharif! And most damningly, the SS heir apparent, Aditya Thakre attended a program by another Pakistani artist Rahat Fateh Ali Khan less than a month ago.

BJP is molly-coddling, insulting and ignore SS in a random pattern. That is Modi-Shah strategy to cut it down to size. But in the process, it is giving a fresh lease of life to Shiv Sena, which otherwise is facing the biggest crisis of existence since its birth. Now SS attended Nitish Kumar's swearing in and is twitching to flex its muscles in Maharashtra as well. 

Its President Uddhav Thakare is known to be a non-leader. And he has further foisted his son, Aditya Thakare as the heir apparent. It will be only a matter of time before more and more people in the second rung realize that they have hit the glass ceiling and only a Thakare or a crass sycophant can cross it. That will be the time they will start looking for alternatives. 

This is the projected status of SS when it completes 50 years. It can continue to run with the hare and hunt with the hound, but that can't last. And BJP will have to adopt a clearer strategy. Otherwise we are looking at a murkier (yes, that is possible!) political scenario in Maharashtra, which will be utterly detrimental to its overall growth. And considering that Maharashtra is still considered one of the 'progressive and advanced' states of India, it doesn't augur well for the country too...

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