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Shiv Sena was hated by Indian liberals as extremist Hindutva party. Now, it’s their darling

Between the party’s Hindutva ideology and a Congress alliance, Uddhav Thackeray will have to walk a tightrope.

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Once upon a time there was a great city called Bombay, a multicultural cosmopolitan metropolis, which welcomed one and all. It was India’s greatest city, its people insisted, and definitely a much better place than Delhi.

Then came Bal Thackeray, the vigilante who ruled the city by force, destroying what was once Bombay, making it Mumbai, a city that could anytime be gripped with fear. Or, so went the liberal narrative.

The same Shiv Sena has today become the darling of Indian liberals, as it breaks away from its old ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party. To keep the BJP out and check the unbridled power of Modi-Shah, the Shiv Sena is suddenly kosher for liberals.

With Uddhav Thackeray’s imminent occupation of the chief minister’s chair in Mumbai’s Mantralaya building, it seems like it was another era when Bal Thackeray was India’s most extremist politician. The Shiv Sena was more Right-wing than the BJP and its parent organisation, the RSS.

Also read: Amar Prem became Kati Patang — Uddhav Thackeray after Sena-BJP alliance collapsed in 2014

Bloodshed in Behrampada

One saw the worst of the Shiv Sena during the Bombay riots of 1992-93, after the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya.

The B.N. Srikrishna Commission, which probed the causes of the Mumbai riots that killed 900 people with majority being Muslims, named Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray in its report. The commission said the second phase of riots were “taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writings and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray”. Bal Thackeray openly boasted about his party’s role in the riots.

These riots were used as a justification by Dawood Ibrahim and his associates for the deadly 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts that left 257 people dead. And more rioting followed.

In the Muslim-dominated Behrampada slum near Bandra, there must be fear again at the thought of the Shiv Sena ruling the state, with Bal Thackeray’s son as chief minister. The memories of the 1992-93 violence haven’t exactly faded away.

Bal Thackeray repeatedly spoke against Muslims and Islam, wanted Shah Rukh Khan tried for sedition, and his party threatened violent protests against any event in Maharashtra that involved Pakistanis. The Shiv Sena repeatedly prevented Pakistan from playing cricket in India — even in Delhi and Agra. The famous modus operandi was to damage the stadium pitch. Thackeray praised Adolf Hitler often and even compared himself to Hitler once. Only in later years did he start qualifying his praise for Hitler. He also repeatedly called for Hindus to take to suicide bombing to counter Islamist terrorism.

When violence is politics

While this was the worst of the Sena, it was by no means an exception. There is hardly a political party that hasn’t used violence at some point in time. For the Shiv Sena, politics is violence. It is the essential core of the party’s way of doing things – although some say it’s been trying to change.

Or, is it? As the BJP tried to form a government in Maharashtra last week, a Shiv Sena MLA said, “If anyone tries to break away any Shiv Sena MLA, then I will smash their head. I will also break their leg.” Yet, what was unusual was the name of the MLA: Abdul Sattar. Today’s Shiv Sena, the party insists, has left behind the politics of xenophobia and othering and wants everybody’s votes, including those of Muslims.

When the party was railing against south Indians, its workers would go around vandalising Udipi restaurants.  Yet, the Shiv Sena is politically expedient. It has been known to change its political focus from time to time. To begin with, it identified south Indians as the enemies of the ‘Marathi manoos’. Then it was the Communists, then Biharis, then Muslims, and so on. The Sena has been known to flirt with rivals, changing its alliances as and when required. It was, after all, a creation of the Congress to counter Leftists.

Also read: As Amit Shah’s plans A, B, C all backfire in Maharashtra, Indian politics gets a new template

Moderating the Sena

A Shiv Sena leader tells me that the party has been moderating itself since the death of Bal Thackeray in 2012. Thackeray’s nephew Raj parted ways and formed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in 2006, and the MNS appeared to inherit the violent vigilantism of Bal Thackeray. Uddhav Thackeray, in contrast, has been more of a reticent, soft-spoken drawing-room politician. He isn’t exactly a rabble-rouser like his father, nor a charismatic orator. Yet, he’s succeeded, eventually, because of the Shiv Sena cadre.

This ‘moderation’ has, however, been a slow exercise. Liberals are presuming the Shiv Sena will just change colours overnight to stay in power. But it may not be so easy. Aaditya Thackeray may no longer burn books, as he did when he entered politics nine years ago. But the Shiv Sena has until recently been taking a stronger stand on Hindutva issues than the BJP. Over issues like Ram Mandir and the National Register of Citizens, the Shiv Sena has played holier than thou with the BJP.

The Shiv Sena has committed itself to secularism as part of the ‘common minimum programme’ with the Congress and the NCP. It may now be difficult for Saamana editor Sanjay Raut to boast that the Sena helped demolished the Babri Masjid in ‘just 17 minutes’. Will the ‘moderate’ Sena of Uddhav Thackeray still demand a complete ban on the burqa, as it did just a few months ago? Uddhav Thackeray may no longer hail Godse as a patriot, as he did in 2013, or demand a permit system for Biharis coming to Mumbai, which he wanted in 2012. But the BJP will definitely embarrass him with his past statements on a daily basis.

Tightrope walk

Will the Shiv Sena still ask for NRC in Mumbai to throw out ‘Bangladeshis’? The Congress may look the other way at the BJP’s proposal of a Bharat Ratna for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, but what if there’s Hindu-Muslim violence fomented by Hindutva proxies? In trying to go mainstream and check the BJP, the Shiv Sena could fall between two stools. On the one hand, the BJP could take the Hindutva high ground, while on the other hand, it could strategically use the MNS against the Sena.

The Shiv Sena recently endeared itself to Left-liberals by joining the movement to oppose the felling of trees in the Aarey forests for building a Metro line. It was just the sort of cause that Aaditya Thackeray needed to establish himself as a modern, sensitive leader who’s aware of issues. And yet, many attacked the Shiv Sena for its hypocrisy of being in alliance with the BJP and still not being able to stop the felling of trees. Isn’t this the party that can bring Mumbai to a halt, people wondered. Sena workers took to some token vandalism (token by their standards).

Now that the Shiv Sena is with the NCP and the Congress, it is going to face many more such contradictions. We’ll likely hear the word ‘hypocrisy’ a lot now.

Also read: Behind Ajit Pawar’s call to resign — a nudge from ‘Pratibha tai’, Sharad Pawar’s wife

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  1. Very ably written feature. Shiv Sena has made pact with the devil. It will pay the price in due course. A leopard can not change its spots so easily.

  2. Fresh elections should be called to put an end to this farce.

    Only in India do politicians change their “ideology” like they change their khadi kurta everyday (I hope they do….this so called democracy stinks to the high heavens).

    Waiting for Labour and conservative and Republican and Democrat members to cross to the other side — and back. As mundane as crossing the street.

    • No political party in India changes it’s ideology, the control of power and it’s retention within family dominated circles. Rest is all a sideshow.

  3. Hereafter both Shivsena and Congress will be losers. Congress was number one and BJP Was fourth number party in Maharashtra. Now BJP is number one and Congress fourth. It was very easy for BJP to form government as it’s alliance got absolute majority. Just an offer of 2.5 years of CM to Shivsena would have kept it a Hindutva party. But with Modi around who needs another Hindutva party ?

  4. Poor Shivam. First he lost his mental balance after 2019 Lok Sabha results. Now, suddenly Shiv Sena, who his ilk loved to abuse over the Years, has joined his own crew. Just imagine, Shiv Sena being in the same camp as NDTV, Print, Indian Express, Times of India, Aaj Tak, India Today…..its poignant! I am deliberately not using the word ‘hilarious’. Is this the secularisation of Shiv Sena, or is this the saffronisation of Shivam Vij & his motley crew of self defeating apologists who are ashamed of their country, culture, people & traditions? Time will tell. Interesting, that in Maharashtra, BJP actually has the golden opportunity to finally emerge as the only Tiger in the jungle. Whether they grab it or not, remains to be seen.

  5. At the end of watching Sholay, after all the action and drama, you realize both heroes and villains were only a bunch of paid actors… The question is – was the entertainment worthwhile?

  6. how do you know, mr. vij, what the liberals think? yes, this is a alliance of circumstances to beat a common enemy – so what?

  7. Shiv Sena is tamed and it is going to be finished. Its base will now migrate to BJP. NCP will corner all “secular” votes for taking Shiv Sena. My prognosis is that in about 2-3 years, there will another election in Maha, essentially between BJP and NCP.

  8. Conservative and rightist movement in the world against communism and Islamic ideology is very much alive so SENA has lot to loose by going with congress.

    • “Conservative and rightist”: rightists are nowadays no more conservative. people like Farage, BoJo and Trump are extremists – not conservatives. likewise Amit Shah.
      “lot to loose” you mean lose. learn your language well if you want to be conservative 😉

  9. For sake of power congress and SENA lost on ideology, businesses know well that SENA has short life left as immature can’t run government without backing of center. Modi as CM was strong only because backup of party cadre and leadership.

  10. SENA and congress both unreliable partners for any government. NCP is opportunist breakaway of congress. BJP has big base in all states and ideology where as so called liberals want easy life and power, money. It will be not only difficult for Thakare to remain CM but keep its folk in power at local levels.
    Hindus have woken up and knows power of their vote.
    Just wait and watch.
    One defeat of Shah-Modi duo is going to be good now onwards for BJP. India needs two party or maximum three not local satrap working on whims without any ideology or nations interest and people future.

  11. Hypocrisy is always a very important and essential part of both personal and societal life. Almost none can avoid it.

  12. This is quite a recollection of SS during it’s heydey. And no liberals have not forgotten.When CAPT amarinder Singh was asked as to why he had joined the Congress despite it’s complicity in Sikh riots , he replied , so who do I join ,AAP? After the demolition of babri masjid when the relatively liberal vajpayee was asked why he was still in the BJP he replied”jayen to jayen Kahan”. This is the thing for everyone, you don’t want to go &you don’t want to stay.So what to do?

  13. Liberals are no different from ordinary people as they form groups and echo only group views. This characteristic is essentially most illiberal. Indian liberal groups are mostly raised to hate Hindu traditions. For example they hate saffron color. They feel safe to criticise the Hindu traditions but are dam scared to criticise Islam. They are called liberals because they belong to gangs self labelled as liberal otherwise they are higest level of crooks..

  14. What has played out in Maharashtra is a brazen power game and shameless one-upmanship. While this was a great opportunity for Modi and his No. 2 so called “Chanakya” to demonstrate what is meant by ‘Raj Dharma’, they failed to do that. What a shame!! At the same time, the queen of Lutyens Delhi didn’t let go of the opportunity to play the dirty game even if it meant compromising the so called ideals of her grand old party. It is surprising how people in India turn politicians into larger than life, A decade in a ministry, while it is seen as a great hallmark of success, what is overlooked by their zealous fans is the lack of performance. Some eulogise as if these veterans have transformed their state and country into a developed nation-state. It is a sad day for secular India.

  15. Helming India’s most important state is a solemn responsibility. With that will come the gravitas the job requires. What has built up the aura of Shri Sharad Pawar is not a decade in Krishi Bhavan but four tenures as CM of Maharashtra. There is no reason for the Shiv Sena to do anything that will cloud its long term political future.

    • Aura of Sharad Pawar? There is no need to overestimate the political persona of Sharad Pawar. Needless to add that he is an experienced and important politician from Maharashtra. He came into prominence when he defected from his own party INC-R in 1978 with 38 MLAs and formed a rainbow government with Janata Party. After fall of Janata Party government and victory of Indira Gandhi the state government was dissolved and fresh elections were held. Sharad Pawar was in opposion till 1987 when he returned to Congress. In 1999 he again broke away from Congress and formed his own party- NCP. His performance on his own is as below:1978- 38 MLAs- Samantar ((Parallel) Congress, 1980- 47 MLAs-Indian National Congress(U), 1985 -54 MLAs- Indian National Congress (S), 1999- 58 MLAs- Nationalist Congress Party, 2004-71MLAs- Nationalist Congress Party, 2009- 62 MLAs-Nationalist Congress Party, 2014-41 MLAs-Nationalist Congress Party, 2019- 56 MLAs- Nationalist Congress Party. The peak was in 2004. Thereafter it is just ordinary performance. Yes, he has held his fort in Maharashtra. But nothing spectacular at the national level. Never captured absolute majority in Maharashtra on his own. It was in alliance with other parties or as a part of the Congress.

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