Mumbai: In the early 1960s, there was a daily trickle of visitors at an unassuming one-bedroom house close to Mumbai’s Shivaji Park. The draw: It was Bal Thackeray’s residence.
One day, his father, Keshav Thackeray aka Prabodhankar, a social reformer and journalist, asked Bal Thackeray what he planned to do with the increasing crowd of supporters coming to their house every day, and if he was thinking of establishing an organisation.
At the time, Bal Thackeray’s cause of ‘justice for the sons of the soil’ was gathering momentum with his column ‘Vacha ani thanda basa (Read and sit tight)’ in his publication, Marmik. The cause was getting so much traction that the younger Thackeray said he was thinking of binding it in an organisational structure. His father suggested he name the outfit Shiv Sena — a monicker inspired by the Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji and his sena (army). It seemed like an apt name for an organisation born to deliver justice to the Marathi people, the sons of the soil.
On 19 June 1966, Bal Thackeray launched the Shiv Sena, and there was no looking back… until 2022, when the party’s name and identity became the subject of a rancorous tug of war.
As he addressed people via social media Sunday, Prabodhankar’s grandson Uddhav Thackeray narrated the anecdote about the origins of the party to emphasise just how personal the loss of the name — Shiv Sena — would be to him.
On Monday, the Election Commission of India (EC) gave both factions of the squabbling Shiv Sena — one led by former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and the other by sitting Chief Minister Eknath Shinde — new names. These will be applicable until the election watchdog settles a dispute between the two factions over the party name and its bow-and-arrow symbol.
The name that the EC granted to the Shinde faction — Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena (Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena) — almost acknowledges the leader’s claims of being the “true heir” of the Shiv Sena founder’s ideology. For the Thackeray camp, the EC granted the name ‘Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray)’.
The development came two days after the poll body froze the Shiv Sena’s name and symbol and asked the two factions to provide three alternatives for symbols as well as for the party name.
Both sides are treating the EC’s decision as a victory.
Kishori Pednekar, former Mumbai mayor and a Thackeray loyalist, tweeted a video singing a 1979 Marathi song, ‘Ushakaal hota hota (While it was almost dawn)’, but tweaking its lyrics “for Shiv Sainiks”.
“Kaal ratra hota hota, ushakaal jhala, arre punha Shiv Sainikanno petva mashaali (While it was almost dark, light broke. O Shiv Sainiks, light the flaming torches),” Pednekar said.
In the Shinde camp, Bharat Gogavale, the faction’s chief whip in the assembly, told television channels: “We are satisfied that we got Balasaheb’s name. We are getting a good response on this from the people. Saheb is blessing us from up there”.
The order came three months after Shinde led a rebellion of Shiv Sena MLAs and toppled the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to form a government with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with Shinde as CM. The Shinde faction then knocked on the EC’s doors claiming to be the real Shiv Sena and the true heir of Bal Thackeray’s ideology.
The new names and symbols come just before a crucial by-election for the Andheri East assembly seat on 3 November — the first election since Sena’s vertical split. It also came ahead of civic body elections in Maharashtra, including the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, which will be held either later this year or in early 2023.
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Uddhav’s symbol — the flaming torch
The names granted to both sides were their second preference since the first choice was the same — ‘Shiv Sena (Balasaheb Thackeray)’ — the EC said in separate letters sent to the two groups Monday.
The Thackeray group has been allotted the mashaal (flaming torch) as its symbol. It was one of three symbols that the Thackeray faction had proposed (the other two were a trident and the rising sun).
The Shinde camp had also proposed a trident and a rising sun, as well as a gada (mace).
The Election Commission denied both factions the trishul citing “religious connotations”. The Shinde faction was denied the mace for the same reason.
The rising sun was denied to both factions because it’s the registered election symbol of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
The EC has asked the Shinde camp to submit a fresh list of three symbols by 10 am Tuesday.
The Shiv Sena and its symbols
Bal Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena on 19 June 1966, but it was only 23 years later that the party got its permanent symbol of the bow-and-arrow registered with the Election Commission of India.
Until then, it had fought elections on a variety of symbols that the poll body would allot its candidates — including a sword and shield, two palm trees, a railway engine, the rising sun, and a mashaal.
At one point in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, Shiv Sena candidates even contested on the BJP’s lotus symbol.
Diwakar Raote, a Thackeray faction loyalist and a founder member of the party, likes to take some of the credit for the Shiv Sena getting its registered symbol in 1989.
Raote was then the party’s sampark pramukh (chief coordinator) for the Parbhani district in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region. He said that for the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, Bal Thackeray had decided to field three candidates from the Shiv Sena — Moreshwar Save from Aurangabad, Wamanrao Mahadik from Bombay South Central, and Vidyadhar Gokhale from Mumbai North Central.
“I knew the pulse of the people in Parbhani very well. I asked Balasaheb to field a fourth candidate too, from Parbhani. I told him I don’t want anything except the party’s backing and if possible, a rally by Balasaheb. I guaranteed victory,” Raote, a former minister in the state, told ThePrint.
And true to his word, the fourth candidate, Ashok Deshmukh, won along with the other three, and the Shiv Sena managed to get enough of the vote-share to get itself registered as a state party with a symbol.
“The Parbhanikars got the symbol for the party, and the EC’s interim order is a big blow to their efforts,” he said.
Ravindra Mirlekar, another senior leader of the Thackeray camp, told ThePrint the party had asked for the bow-and-arrow symbol as it was emblematic of “Lord Rama’s Shiva dhanush”.
“The Shiv Sena’s movement was the near-impossible task of picking up the Shiva dhanush,” Mirlekar added.
In Hindu mythology, Lord Rama is said to have broken the celestial bow of Shiva, showing his extraordinary powers in a test set up by King Janak to choose a suitor for his daughter Sita.
Slice of history in symbol alternatives
There’s a slice of history even behind the three choices of alternative symbols that the Thackeray camp has submitted to the ECI, party leaders say.
The Shiv Sena got its first victory in the Maharashtra assembly on the symbol of the rising sun, when Wamanrao Mahadik trumped the Communist Party of India candidate, Sarojini Desai, in 1970 in a bypoll from Lalbaug-Parel constituency, which has over the years become a Sena bastion, party leaders said.
The party has won an election on the mashaal symbol too, with some leaders saying it was the winning symbol of Chhagan Bhujbal, who got elected as a Shiv Sena MLA from Mazgaon constituency. Bhujbal later rebelled against the Shiv Sena in 1991 with a group of supporters and joined the Congress under Sharad Pawar’s leadership. He later moved to the Nationalist Congress Party after Pawar founded the outfit in 1999.
Raote said: “The trishul as a symbol is new to the Shiv Sena. Only Uddhavsaheb knows why trishul, but we believe there’s always revolution in the thoughts of the Thackerays”.
Mirlekar had a different explanation. “We need the trishul… we have to kill a Ravana with 40 heads,” he said, referring to the 40 Shiv Sena rebel MLAs, including CM Shinde himself.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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