Shiv Sena has been honey-trapped by none other than Hindutva. The tussle between the Thackerays and Eknath Shinde over who truly represents ‘Hindutva’ in Maharashtra has brought the Shiv Sena with its chin up and hands dropped into the boxing ring with the BJP. It is bound to get knocked out.
The question that must be giving Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray sleepless nights is whether ditching the Hindutva plank to come to power and join hands with the NCP and the Congress was a good idea or not.
The crisis in Shiv Sena today can be seen as the defining dilemma of most political parties. No, not one of the dynasties. But whether they should go the Hindutva way to compete with the BJP or keep it Hindutva Lite like the AAP or Hindutva Zero like the TMC. Shiv Sena tried the Hindutva Lite avatar for a bit, even leaning towards Zero at times. But the trapeze artist soon ran out of manoeuvres.
A secular makeover
Ever since MP-MLA couple Navneet and Ravi Rana recited the Hanuman Chalisa outside his residence, Matoshree, Uddhav has fallen into the trap — of proving his Hindutva credentials. MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s ultimatum to the CM to take down loudspeakers from mosques or else he would play Hanuman Chalisa was in sync with what the Ranas were doing. Instead of connecting the dots, Uddhav went for the bait.
Shiv Sena had let go of Hindutva to join hands with secular parties and given itself a makeover. It was now seen as a party interested in development and progressivism while still being the flag bearer of Maratha pride.
By teaming up with Kunal Kamra to take on Right-wing darling Kangana Ranaut and not cancelling Munawar Faruqui’s Mumbai show when the BJP was gunning for him, Shiv Sena moved further away from its Hindutva ideology.
All this was clearly designed to pave the way for its young and dynamic leader, Aditya Thackeray, to take over the reins of the party and ultimately power in Maharashtra. Projecting Aditya as someone trying to turn Mumbai into Miami and saving the Aarey Forest was part of a careful image-building exercise to neatly fit him into the role of a modern, new-age Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
Liberal voters who conveniently forgot or forgave the party’s hardline Right-wing avatar embraced this shiny new Sena, but not the Sainiks — the rank and file on whose shoulders the Thackerays stand on. As such, Uddhav set out to reclaim Hindutva.
In speeches following the aforementioned political dramas, Uddhav Thackeray kept insisting he was the ‘gadadhari Hindutvavadi’ (fierce weaponised propagator of Hindutva). He was, in simple terms, hard selling himself to a crowd that had anyway voted for the BJP.
Footsie with Hindutva
Shiv Sena should have stuck to its modern makeover unapologetically. Instead, Uddhav got rattled with nobodies like the Ranas and the antics of Raj Thackeray, digging a hole for himself. Today, he faces opposition from within his own party’s ranks on “ideology”. And ideology is a joke in today’s politics. The same party that calls beef ‘holy’ in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh calls it ‘food’ in Goa and Meghalaya.
The irony is that the rebel MLAs are led by Eknath Shinde whose mentor Anand Dighe had strained relations with Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena founder. Bal Thackeray was weary of Dighe’s rising popularity within the party, and sidelined him. Uddhav quite obviously lacks his father’s shrewdness. He even gave Shinde the Ministry of Urban Development, dubbed as the second most important ministry in the state and one which the CM usually reserves for themselves.
Uddhav’s desperation to prove his ‘Hindutva-ness’, sending his son off to visit Ayodhya while recounting the Sena’s contribution to bringing down Babri Masjid, gave Eknath Shinde a golden chance to do what his mentor couldn’t manage — sideline Uddhav Thackeray within his own party. That too, based on the yardstick of Hindutva, which no one except for the BJP was judging Uddhav on.
And now the Sena leader is stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. His initial emotional pleas asking rebels to come back to the party made him look weak. There’s no knowing where Uddhav and Shiv Sena go from here.
This should be a lesson for regional parties across India. The moment a party starts discussing religion — especially Hindutva — as a mark of achievement or identity, it will inevitably lose to the BJP. The RSS has been instrumental in building a cadre for the BJP. With 57,000 shakhas across India and lakhs of swayamsevaks (volunteers), it is virtually impossible for any party or movement to make a dent in the RSS-BJP’s ideological reach, at the core of which lies Hindutva.
The only way to counter Hindutva is by not competing against it. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee understood this well and managed to retain power. When the BJP was discussing religion and Bangladeshi or Rohingya immigrants, her party Trinamool Congress stuck to promoting its welfare schemes. And it paid off well.
The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)