Mumbai: Around 1 am Tuesday, a group of people pulled down a stage that was being constructed for a BJP rally outside the suburban railway station in Mumbai’s Kandivali East, allegedly shouting “Shiv Sena Zindabad”.
The rally was part of the BJP’s newly-launched ‘Pol Khol’ campaign, where the Opposition party planned to highlight alleged corruption by the ruling Shiv Sena in the Mumbai civic body, which the latter ruled for 25 years until an administrator took charge last month.
Amid stringent criticism by the BJP, various probes against its leaders by central agencies, and a renewed Hindutva pitch by the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the Shiv Sena — a political party seen as having mellowed down over the last few years under the leadership of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray — appears to have become more of its belligerent, original self.
In the last three months, Shiv Sena cadres have often taken to the streets to protest or put up shows of strength.
“This is the real Shiv Sena. Shiv Sena’s birth is in aggression and protests. In the last few years, thodasa kami jasta jhala hota (the aggression was blunted a bit). There were various reasons,” Ravindra Mirlekar, a Shiv Sena old-timer and party functionary, told ThePrint. “Shiv Sainiks have also become more ideology-oriented.”
“But what is happening now is absolutely right and it is needed. The protests are not against any government. They are against everything that is happening, how the BJP is playing its politics,” he added.
The belligerent Shiv Sena
The Shiv Sena was founded in June 1966 as an aggressive ‘sons of the soil’ movement that has since taken the form of a political outfit. It sharpened its aggression in the 1980s and 1990s, embracing Hindutva as a core political agenda.
But now, helmed by Uddhav and his son Aaditya Thackeray, and part of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance it forged with former ideological rivals, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress, the Sena is perceived as a shadow of the communal political outfit it was in the 1990s.
The party’s politics started taking a more liberal turn after 2014, when the BJP started aggressively expanding in Maharashtra, not just targeting the Shiv Sena’s core Hindutva vote-bank, but also the fence-sitters and urban cosmopolitan voters.
This pushed the Shiv Sena to redraw its political strategy, and, as part of this exercise, the erstwhile loud “Shiv Sena-style” protests became more infrequent, barring certain instances, one of them being the party’s protests against Union Minister Narayan Rane’s comments last year about “slapping” CM Thackeray.
In various conversations with ThePrint, Shiv Sainiks have said street aggression has been toned down as the party is the lead player in the government, leaders can get things done with a phone call instead of having to resort to the streets, and nobody wants to create law-and-order issues for CM Uddhav to handle.
But, in the past three months or so, the party’s cadres have been seen more on the streets.
Shiv Sena functionary Vinod Ghosalkar rejected any suggestion of the party ever having changed: “The Shiv Sainik has always been active. We have always been taking up good causes, protests. We have never diluted our protests.”
Political analyst Abhay Deshpande, however, told ThePrint, “The Shiv Sena is adopting the Mamata Banerjee style now by playing the victim card, and making a noise about how the BJP is targeting the party. That is where its aggression is coming from.”
High-octane street agitations
In February, a large number of Shiv Sena workers gathered outside the party’s headquarters, Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar, holding up traffic, as the party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut addressed a press conference accusing the Enforcement Directorate (ED) of being hand-in-glove with the BJP. Raut also targeted BJP leaders Kirit Somaiya and Mohit Kamboj, accusing them of corruption.
The press conference took place after the ED’s action against a string of Shiv Sena leaders such as Pratap Sarnaik, Anil Parab, Anandrao Adsul as well as Sanjay Raut’s close aide Pravin Raut. The party’s claim has been that the BJP is misusing central agencies to silence its political opponents, especially those that criticise the Narendra Modi-led central government the most.
Then, earlier this month, a day after the ED attached properties worth crores belonging to Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena workers staged a show of strength outside the Mumbai airport when the Rajya Sabha MP returned from Delhi.
Similarly, Shiv Sena workers protested in various parts of Maharashtra against the BJP’s Somaiya, after the leader was booked for alleged misappropriation of funds collected to save the decommissioned INS Vikrant.
Somaiya has consistently targeted leaders of the ruling MVA alliance, including Uddhav Thackeray and members of his family, with graft allegations.
Last week, angry Shiv Sena members staged a similar show of strength outside Matoshree, the Thackeray residence in suburban Bandra, after Navneet Ravi Rana, an Independent MP from Amravati, threatened to go there and read the Hanuman Chalisa.
Then came Tuesday’s incident of the BJP’s stage being pulled down.
Sachin Patil, in-charge of the local Shiv Sena shakha (unit), told ThePrint that the party didn’t vandalise the stage.
“The BJP deliberately wanted to have its function right in front of our shakha. Their rally also did not have the necessary civic NOCs. We didn’t vandalise the stage. We informed the police and civic authorities and got it taken down,” he said. “If someone holds an unauthorised sabha (gathering) outside your door, and tries to bully, what are we supposed to do?”
Patil, however, shrugged off claims of this being, in any way, similar to the party’s street activism of the yesteryear.
“Today’s Shiv Sena only focuses on work and development. We don’t do all of this tod-fod (vandalism). We want to work for Aaditya Thackeray’s vision,” he said.
Brandishing Hindutva commitment
The Shiv Sena has also been brandishing its commitment to Hindutva more strongly amid the MNS’ attempts to project Raj Thackeray as late Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray’s “true heir”.
The MNS chief, who is Uddhav’s cousin, has been raising objections to loudspeakers at mosques, an issue that used to be raised by Bal Thackeray. Raj has also declared a 3 May deadline for mosques to remove loudspeakers, and urged Hindus to play the Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers if they fail to do so.
Almost as a retort, the Shiv Sena held ‘maha aartis’ across several temples in Mumbai during Hanuman Jayanti last week.
Raj Thackeray declared that he would be visiting Ayodhya in May, following which the Shiv Sena announced that state Minister Aaditya Thackeray, too, will be visiting Ayodhya in the first week of May.
“The Shiv Sena has always tried to show that while it left the BJP, it did not leave Hindutva. Now, with the MNS trying to claim the Shiv Sena’s space, it is trying to show its Hindutva credentials even more aggressively,” said political analyst Deshpande.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)