Once known for progressive thinkers, the shrill roar of Shiv Sena is overpowering Marathi culture.
Shiv Sena celebrated its golden jubilee on June 19 and is planning year long celebrations marking 50 years since the founding of the party.Before analysing the contribution of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra’s politics, the circumstances under which the party was born must be taken into consideration. Maharashtra’s inception dates back to May 1, 1960, owing to the persistence of Samyukta Maharashtra Movement. Inspite of that, the Marathi Manoos was restless, especially the Mumbaikar. The sentiment of unfair treatment, despite being an indigenous part of the land, was widespread among the common people. Nobody was ready to trust Congress as memories of Samyukta Maharashtra Movement were fresh. Communists and Socialists, who were at the forefront of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement, were oblivious to the disillusionment of the common man.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Under these circumstances, Editor/cartoonist Bal Thackeray, through his weekly ‘Marmik’, tapped into the restive emotions of the Marathi Manoos. He began printing the telephone directory in a column called ‘Read and sit idle’. The dominating non-Marathi presence in the directory alarmed the Marathi Manoos and he started supporting Shiv Sena.The rise and expansion of Shiv Sena in the past five decades boils down to this ‘Marathi pride’. It is worth looking at what the party in turn has done for the Marathi Manoos.The local cadres of Shiv Sena had vehemently raised the issue of jobs for them. The party had demanded 80% reservation in jobs for locals. Consequently, Marathi Manoos got into banks and government offices as a clerk or a peon. Vada pav stalls graced the footpaths of Mumbai in order to get the unemployed Marathi youth on their feet. Unfortunately, most of the Marathi Manoos remained clerk and the vada pav stalls too, could not expand their reach. The lack of foresight among the leadership was one reason behind this retarded growth. But more importantly, Shiv Sena realizsed the fact that this kind of emotional politics goes a long way in accumulating ‘capital’. As expected, leaders got rich, Marathi Manoos maintained their status quo. The influx to Mumbai from all over the country made Shiv Sena’s appeal stronger as Marathi Manoos was thrown in the rubble of insecurity over competition for jobs and cultural space.Another reason for Shiv Sena’s growth after 1966 was CM Vasantrao Naik of the Congress. He sought refuge in Shiv Sena to reduce the prominence of the left, who had augmented the labour movement considerably. Naik and corporates like Bajaj, helped Shiv Sena secretly. Consequently, from attacking the office of the Communists to the assassination of popular Communist leader Comrade Krishna Desai, Shiv Sena got accused of every possible thing that was in the book. Later on, Shiv Sena’s labour union regularly stood by the establishment. In the historic agitation of mill workers, too, Shiv Sena’s role was ambiguous. The party was openly charged for using the labour union for extortion.The murder of Com. Krishna Desai gave birth to Shiv Sena’s bloody politics. The party habitually used violent methods to terrorise the establishment. After being anti-south Indians in the initial stages, it targeted Gujaratis, North Indians and then Muslims. Pick up one enemy, use him to ensure insecurity among the Marathi Manoos and project the party as some sort of a saviour— this was Bal Thackeray’s mantra. Apart from the issue of Marathi pride, Shiv Sena did not have any ideology. In this context, Bal Thackeray’s servile attitude towards Indira Gandhi during the emergency and endorsing Russian socialism does not come as a surprise.After 1977, Under Janata Party, though, Shiv Sena had become irrelevant. The credit for the revival of Shiv Sena goes to the then Congress leader Vasantdada Patil. “Mumbai is in Maharashtra but there is no Maharashtra in Mumbai”, he declared and played into the hands of Bal Thackeray. Shiv Sena promptly picked up the issue and won the 1985 corporation elections. For the second time a Congress leader helped SS.After 1985, the party discovered its Hindutva shtick which is still intact till date. Now they compete with their partner BJP on the Hindutva plank and try to project themselves as the more militant Hindutva outfit. It is worth remembering here that Thackeray took responsibility for the Babri Masjid demolition much before BJP leaders.Until 1985, Shivsena was confined to Mumbai. The credit for expanding its reach to the rural Maharashtra could be given to Chhagan Bhujbal. Sharad Pawar joined Congress in 1986 leaving his contemporary anti-Congress group stranded. That void was effectively filled by Shiv Sena. Precisely why, even today, there is a marked difference between the Shiv Sena of Mumbai and the Shiv Sena of rural Maharashtra. In rural areas, the Marathi pride hardly comes to the fore. It is about questioning the Congress and NCP. One of the most important reasons why Shiv Sena emerged as a major opposition party. It’s impact was visible in the 1990 assembly elections and in 1995, the party was in power, allying with the BJP.However, as an opposition or ruling party, Shiv Sena could not come up with a single constructive programme. Bal Thackeray had mastered the art of neatly exploiting public emotions. But despite being in power at the BMC for 25 years, the party could do little to transform Mumbai. Even in the state, it could not deliver the promise of providing free homes to 70,000 slum dwellers. Shiv Sena never had anything to do with corruption-free politics either. Extortion at local level has kept the party alive. But Shiv Sena deserves credit for providing political standing to the less educated lower caste youth. Without any political training, youngsters managed to become MPs and MLAS merely on the basis of their loyalty towards Bal Thackeray. This could not have happened in any other party. Building up on this very foundation, Shiv Sena opened its branch in every ward and most villages. The way Shiv Sena expanded its presence over the years and managed to reach the grassroot level is exceptional. However, based on this foundation, the party never even attempted to build cooperative institutions like the Congress did. Later on, Gopinath Munde did it using BJP’s platform but such an initiative was beyond Shiv Sena’s comprehension. Being a cartoonist himself, Bal Thackeray could not even implement an independent museum for cartoonists. Perhaps, the idea of constructive and institutional politics conveniently escaped the minds in Shiv Sena.The English media rightly refers to Bal Thackeray as a ‘paper tiger’. Nobody managed to attain the kind of publicity Shiv Sena did nationally and internationally. Thanks to Thackeray’s sweet relations with English journalists, he may have attacked Marathi journalists, but shared a glass of wine with their national counterparts.Marathi Manoos is globally known because of Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray, which is a matter of pride for some and humiliation for others. The fact that Shiv Sena reduced the identity of Marathi Manoos to a narrow minded backbencher cannot be neglected. In fact, Maharashtra’s culture transcends Shiv Sena’s neck and crop. Marathi culture is anything but narrow-minded. Sadly, the shrill roar of Shiv Sena seem to be overpowering the melodious song of Marathi culture. The Marathi middle class seems to have accepted this fact. Once known for its progressive thinkers, this explicit change in Maharashtra is indeed notable.