Mumbai: The political drama in Maharashtra over government formation after the assembly elections has brought into sharp focus the coming together of parties with diverse ideologies. However, while it may seem strange that the Congress party and the Shiv Sena are sitting across the table discussing the modalities of an alliance, their relationship is not quite new.
The Congress-Sena ties span nearly five decades of friendship and helping each other grow in the face of social, economic and political adversities.
Until the Shiv Sena founder the late Bal Thackeray found a new friend in the BJP in 1985, his party was considered to be the political shadow of the Congress. The growth of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and later across Maharashtra is directly connected to the increasing clout of the Congress party.
The birth of Shiv Sena
The relationship between these two parties dates back to the 1960s when industrialisation was winding its way through the bylanes of erstwhile Bombay, which was home to several textile mills. The entire stretch from Parel in Central Bombay to Girgaum in South Mumbai was dotted with textile mills.
As the strength of the workers in these mills grew, so did their problems. This was the time when the Communist Party of India (CPI) brought the trade unions into Bombay.
The workers with their increasing woes found the trade unions to be their go-to place. As the trade union activities grew, so did Communism.
The Congress, which was in power in Maharashtra in the 1960s, found it difficult to contain the trade unions and its activities.
On a parallel track, the Shiv Sena started working for the cause of the Marathi Manoos (sons-of-the-soil). Since the mill workers were Marathis, many of them veered towards the Sena, which was just an organization then.
The birth of the Shiv Sena as a political party in 1966 was in fact aided by the Congress.
When Bal Thackeray’s father Prabhodankar Thackeray suggested to the former to give the Shiv Sena a formal structure, the founders included many Congress stalwarts. The late deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Ramrao Adik (Congress), was a founder member.
Thus began social organisation Shiv Sena’s sojourn in Bombay as a political outfit.
The birth of the Shiv Sena corresponded with the domination of the trade union movement. Communism had filtered into the textile mills through the trade unions.
Since the Shiv Sena spoke the language of the mill workers, it started making attempts to garner support of the mill workers.
It was the Congress party that helped the Sena gain a foothold into the trade union movement, as the party’s government in the state remained a silent bystander to the increasing clashes between Sainiks and Communists.
In 1967, Sena workers burnt down the Communist Party of India office located at Dalvi building in Parel. The violence between them grew and plateaued with the murder of CPI leader and trade unionist Krishna Desai.
Thackeray’s support to Emergency
Thackeray’s growing charisma served as a lure for many youths whose fathers were with the CPI. Slowly, there was an incursion of these youths into the Shiv Sena. The Congress stood staunchly by its partner.
In 1975, when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in the country, Thackeray emerged as a vocal supporter. Sources say he had openly supported the late PM.
In later months of the same year, Thackeray supported Congress leader Murli Deora in the mayoral polls of Bombay and got him elected.
In 1978, the Congress reciprocated and supported Shiv Sena’s Wamanrao Mahadik and helped him get elected as the mayor of Bombay.
At the peak of its political journey in 1980 when the Shiv Sena could have made inroads into the Legislative Assembly, however, Thackeray decided to not contest the state polls. He extended support to the Congress and addressed rallies for them. One such rally was in Nehrunagar in Bombay for Babasaheb Bhosale, who became the CM later.
As the Shiv Sena’s popularity grew, the Congress started feeling threatened. Slowly, the friendship started seeing a wedge. While personal friendships between the Congressmen and the Shiv Sena leaders continued, a bitterness had crept into the political ties.
Both vied for the same political constituents and the Shiv Sena’s violent stand against the South Indians — who had migrated to Bombay in large numbers — did not sit well with the newer leaders of the Congress. The relationship soured completely following the Shiv Sena’s adoption of Hindutva and its newfound relationship with the BJP.
However, despite being a constituent of the NDA, the Shiv Sena supported the candidature of Pratibha Patil and later Pranab Mukherjee (both of the Congress) for the post of President of India.
Political analysts say the relationship between the Congress and the Shiv Sena is a workable one as it serves the purpose of both and that is to stay in power.