Lucknow/Mumbai: In 1966, Bal Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, with a strong anti-migrant agenda, blaming north Indians and south Indians alike for allegedly hogging plum jobs in Mumbai and depriving the sons of the soil of opportunities.
More than 50 years later, Thackeray’s grandson, Aaditya Thackeray, reached Uttar Pradesh Thursday to solicit votes for his party from the people whom it once opposed.
This is the new avatar of the Shiv Sena, a party that is looking to grow beyond its regional tag and expand outside Maharashtra, and party leaders say, and 31-year-old Aaditya is the face of it.
The Shiv Sena’s national ambition has been more pronounced ever since its then-ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), started aggressively expanding into its home turf of Maharashtra in 2014. The two allies had a troublesome relationship since then, with the partnership eventually splintering in 2019.
This election, the Shiv Sena is contesting 45 seats in the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh with the Thackeray scion entering his party’s former ally’s territory in the last phase of campaigning to drive home the seriousness of the Sena’s plans. The party had fielded 100 candidates, but the nominations of several were cancelled, paring down the list.
Rallies in BJP-held constituencies
Thackeray, a minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, is visiting two constituencies in the gateway to eastern UP — Prayagraj, and the Domariyaganj region — Thursday.
He first campaigned for his party’s candidate in Siddharthnagar district’s Domariyaganj constituency, and later in the day, will address a rally in Prayagraj’s Koraon constituency.
“We are looking at 2024 and the party is planning to expand its base outside Maharashtra. Maharashtra cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray and senior leader Sanjay Raut are set to reach UP and will address rallies here,” UP Shiv Sena secretary Vishwajeet Singh told ThePrint.
“Our leader Aaditya Thackeray went to campaign in the Dadra and Nagar Haveli bypolls which we won. Now, the party senior leadership is looking at UP,” the party’s UP state president Thakur Anil Singh told ThePrint.
The party’s main agenda in UP is Hindutva, and leaders are targeting rival BJP for being “fake Ram bhakts”.
“The BJP is a party of fake Ram bhakts. The way they are using religion to garner votes has actually led to the voters getting bored and they are being pushed into the darkness,” the Sena’s state president said.
“We are going solo in UP and this is part of our leadership’s attempt to strengthen our party units in states other than Maharashtra. We will fight on the Hindutva and development plank. We are confident of opening our account in UP this time,” Singh added.
Shiv Sena’s national foray so far
While the Shiv Sena has been contesting elections outside Maharashtra for a few years now, it has started touting its national ambitions especially after its split with the BJP.
When the two parties were allies, there was an unsaid understanding between them that the BJP will expand nationally and be the senior partner at the Centre, while the Shiv Sena will hold fort in Maharashtra and will be the senior of the two in the state.
However, over the last 10 years, the BJP has been aggressively expanding in Maharashtra. In 2014, when the BJP and Shiv Sena contested assembly polls separately only to form a state government together, the Shiv Sena was reduced to being the junior partner with 63 seats as compared to the BJP’s 122.
Since then, the Shiv Sena has been contesting elections outside Maharashtra in states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Bihar with renewed heft, but without much success.
The only major win outside Maharashtra for the Shiv Sena has been the victory of Kalaben Delkar, wife of former MP Mohan Delkar, from Dadra and Nagar Haveli in November last year. Aaditya Thackeray had visited Dadra Nagar Haveli in October last year to address a rally in Delkar’s support.
In 2017, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya personally campaigned for their candidates in the Goa assembly polls. This time too, Aaditya addressed rallies in Goa in the last phase of campaigning before the 14 February vote, trying to sell the “Maharashtra model of governance”, talking about how surveys have rated his father among the country’s best CMs.
Besides, Aaditya had also addressed a rally in Rajasthan during the 2018 assembly elections.
In 2020, the Shiv Sena contested the Bihar elections using the ‘sons of the soil’ agenda in reverse. The party’s Bihar unit highlighted how the incumbent Janata Dal (United)-BJP coalition has allegedly done little to create job opportunities for Biharis in their home state because of which they are having to work as migrant labourers in other states. The Shiv Sena, however, recorded a dismal performance, drawing fewer votes than NOTA with a total vote share of 0.05 per cent.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)