Shiv Sena: So near yet so far

Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray with son and Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray during a joint press conference with NCP chief Sharad Pawar (unseen), in Mumbai, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Overnight Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray’s fortunes changed. He was, until the early morning of November 23, the consensus candidate of three parties including his own for the post of chief minister. But in a bloodless coup of sorts or as Uddhav himself phrased it, a “purgical strike”, it was Devendra Fadnavis who was back again as CM in a surreptitious morning ceremony.

Despite this, Uddhav and Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut are quite sure that a Sena-Congress-NCP government will be formed soon. That only time will tell as this story has not ended. But meanwhile what of the Shiv Sena? How does the self-appointed inheritor of the legacy of Shivaji Maharaj and that of its founder, Bal Thackeray, account for itself?

In the eyes of its voters, the Sena had sunk below reproach. Perhaps this debacle – that it is not forming a government with such unseemly allies – is a relief for its supporters. But the move to ally with a sworn enemy is unlikely to be forgotten or forgiven.

Yet, the Shiv Sena and the Congress are not that far apart as one would like to think. The Sena was supported in its nascent days by the Congress to counter the dominant Left unions in Mumbai. It had unstinting backing from Congress stalwart and CM Vasantdada Patil and many years later it supported Pratibha Patil as President. The Congress didn’t act on the many cases of hate speech against Thackeray either. In addition, Bal Thackeray did not oppose the Emergency and his cartoon on Mrs Gandhi’s death was a moving tribute to the late PM.

That said, Bal Thackeray abused the Congress as a party, using unparliamentary language against its chief Sonia Gandhi on occasion. And it is unlikely he would have formed a political alliance with the Congress or even his old friend and supporter Sharad Pawar.

After the counting on October 24, the Sena had a confirmed berth in the state government but like poor little Oliver Twist, it wanted more. But the BJP and Sena had contested as an alliance – an alliance based on Hindutva and not any Common Minimum Programme. As BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad said, the Sena also benefited from the alliance and the leadership of Fadnavis, who was projected as the CM all along.

It is clear that without an alliance the Shiv Sena cannot win the state on its own at present. Its USP is the sectarian ideology it has promoted and the asmita of the Marathi manoos which helped it continue in power in the municipal corporation of Greater Mumbai multiple times. Shiv Sainiks can understand an alliance with the BJP but draw the line at those professing a seemingly ‘secular’ or anti-sectarian ideology. The impact of breaking ranks with the BJP can have repercussions with the Sena’s electorate which is emotionally attached to the party. That is something the party will have to reckon with in the future.

(Meena Menon is an independent journalist and author based in Mumbai)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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