Maharashtra: Congress, Shiv Sen ties date back to 1960s

The 1966 Congress Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik adopted a lenient approach towards Shiv Sena’s campaign against South Indians. (DH Image)

Arch rivals Shiv Sena and Congress have begun discussions on a power-sharing pact for Maharashtra. But, this is not the first time that the two parties have worked together for Congress had a key role in the birth of the Shiv Sena.

In the 1960s, Congress was grappling with the strengthening Communists in Mumbai, who were fast becoming a force to reckon with given the number of textile mills dotting the city with its vast workforce offering a ready catchment of supporters.

Shiv Sena was formed by Bal Thackeray in 1966 against the increasing influence of South Indians in Mumbai, who landed plum position in government and private jobs in the financial capital of the country.

The then Congress Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik – incidentally the only Chief Minister to last a full term before Devendra Fadnavis achieved that feat – adopted a lenient approach towards Shiv Sena’s campaign against South Indians with a firm belief that the fledgling outfit would help counter the Communists.

“In fact, in those years Shiv Sena was also referred to as Vasant Sena,” a senior Congress leader said pointing out Thackeray senior was also among the few leaders who later supported the Emergency.

Later, Chief Minister Vasantdada Patil also extended tacit support to the Shiv Sena during the elections to the Bombay Municipal Corporation in 1985 to settle scores against party colleague Murli Deora.

Sena also supported Congress candidates in the Lok Sabha elections in 1977 and 1980, thus helping the grand old party counter the influence of Communists in the city.

Thackeray senior’s friendship with NCP supremo was legendary despite being arch political rivals. The two leaders kept their rivalries to the political field and shared a great personal rapport.

The two parties drifted apart in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and following Shiv Sena’s alliance with the BJP.

Despite the odds, Shiv Sena extended support to Pratibha Patil’s candidature as the Congress’ nominee in the Presidential election in 2007 against BJP nominee Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

In another presidential election five years later, Shiv Sena threw its weight behind Pranab Mukherjee against the BJP-led NDA nominee P A Sangma. Mukherjee even called on Bal Thackeray at his ‘Matoshree’ residence in suburban Mumbai while canvassing for the presidential election.

In his memoirs, Mukherjee admitted that his meeting with Thackeray had upset Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Now it was Gandhi’s turn to approve of a post-poll alliance with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra against a common rival, BJP.

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