Shiv Sena is returning to hardline Hindutva after projecting softer, cosmopolitan image over the last three years.
Mumbai: The Shiv Sena seems to be returning to its core hardline Hindutva agenda, even pitching itself on the same side as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), months before Lok Sabha elections and exactly a year before assembly elections are due in Maharashtra.
Over the past three years, the Shiv Sena had started projecting a softer, cosmopolitan and a slightly more youthful version of its self under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray. It only helped that Thackeray scion Aaditya also became more active in the party’s affairs.
But the party seems to have changed its mind.
At its annual Dussehra rally on Thursday, Uddhav Thackeray declared right at the outset that the Hindu is still alive and kicking, and that if the government does not build the Ram temple in Ayodhya, he will take scores of Hindus with him to finish the job.
Political observers said that with the future of the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance still uncertain, the Sena is looking to tap the desperation of radical Hindu voters disillusioned with the BJP ahead of the 2019 polls.
For this purpose, the Shiv Sena may be trying to carve its identity distinct from that of the BJP as the “more Hindu” of the two outfits, they said.
Eye on radical Hindu voter
“The BJP government got this kind of a strong mandate after a long time and there was some hope among the extreme Hindutva elements that the government will show at least some indication of working towards their long-standing demand of building the Ram temple,” said Deepak Pawar, assistant professor at Mumbai University’s department of politics and civics.
“But that has not happened until now and there is some kind of a desperation among these outfits. The Shiv Sena is trying to tap into that.”
Pawar, however, said the Sena’s attempt to mobilise the Hindu vote this way is likely to backfire.
“If Shiv Sena is supposed to build the Ram temple, is the BJP expected to run Shiv Vada pav stalls for the Marathi youth? Nobody expects the Shiv Sena to build the Ram Mandir. It is not the party’s core agenda.
“I find Uddhav Thackeray more clueless. There was an expectation that he would have indicated walking out of the BJP-led government be it for the Ram mandir or any other issue,” Pawar said.
Relations between the Shiv Sena and BJP have been terse since the two parties split before the 2014 Maharashtra assembly polls only to come together in a post-poll alliance.
In January this year, the Sena, reduced to a junior partner after 2014 from once being an elder brother in the BJP-Sena alliance, resolved to contest the 2019 elections solo.
There have been reported overtures by the BJP to pacify its ally of two decades, but there has been no let-up in the Sena’s acerbic comments for the BJP. The Sena, however, continues to be a part of the BJP-led government at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
“Uddhav Thackeray knows that if he wants a shot at the Lok Sabha polls, he can only do so on the topic of Hindutva,” said political commentator Prakash Bal. “He has probably not decided yet whether or not to forge an alliance with the BJP and is keeping the option open for now by making Hindutva his primary agenda.”
Oscillating political agenda
The Shiv Sena was born in June 1966 out of an anti-migrant, ‘sons of the soil’ agenda, and had its first public rally on Dussehra day that year, attracting an unprecedented crowd over the same sentiment.
From the mid-1980s, the party started emphasising on the themes of Hindu nationalism at a time when the Ram Janmabhoomi issue was creating communal tension across North India. Bal Thackeray forged an alliance with the BJP over the same issue in 1989 and intensified its pro-Hindu, anti-Muslim diatribe.
Uddhav Thackeray, in his speech to the Sena cadre on Thursday, said, “When people feared talking about Hindus, Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray was the only one person who spoke about it publicly. He would say ‘garv se bolo Hindu hain’ (proclaim proudly that we are Hindus).”
The Shiv Sena has since been switching between the ‘sons of the soil’ and the ‘Hindutva’ agendas, and has of late even tried to don a more dynamic, cosmopolitan image too.
During the 2014 state polls, it strongly pushed the ‘Marathi asmita’ or Marathi pride card against the BJP. After joining the BJP-led state government, it projected itself as an outfit that speaks truth to power, despite being the power.
Then closer to the 2017 Mumbai civic polls, the Shiv Sena, which was always known to be conventional and stiff, started speaking the language of the quintessential young, educated Mumbaikar who works hard and plays hard, with Aaditya Thackeray talking about nightlife, football grounds and so on.
It also presented itself as a more cosmopolitan party, fielding a number of Gujarati, north Indian and even Muslim candidates for the civic poll, and creating a first by getting two Muslim corporators elected.
A senior Mumbai-based Sena leader who did not wish to be named said, “Several Shiv Sena leaders spoke before Uddhavsaheb on Thursday outlining the party’s stand for the masses, against corruption, and its commitment to Mumbai. Our ‘sons of the soil’ agenda is still very much intact, but we can’t go to a Lok Sabha poll with it.”
“We can’t hope to contest a national election and say we are anti-north Indians or anti-Gujarati.”
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