Mumbai: Last Sunday, when many across the country celebrated Valentine’s Day, a few people who claimed to be Shiv Sena workers barged into a restaurant in Bhopal and vandalised property. They even misbehaved with the visitors, asking them if celebrating Valentine’s Day was Indian culture.
As a video of the incident went viral, Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, one of the party’s new and ‘liberal’ faces, immediately distanced the Sena from the incident.
“The said people, along with the former BJP MLA in the video, have nothing to do with the Shiv Sena. We strongly condemn this violent act and the use of our party logo, either on purpose or by coincidence. We urge Madhya Pradesh Police to take necessary action,” she tweeted.
The said people, along with the former BJP MLA in the video, have nothing to do with the @ShivSena . We strongly condemn this violent act & the use of our party logo, either on purpose or by coincidence.
We urge Madhya Pradesh Police to take necessary action. @AUThackeray https://t.co/xSgMxztX8E
— Priyanka Chaturvedi (@priyankac19) February 14, 2021
Just over a decade ago, there would have been no question of the Shiv Sena disowning such an act against Valentine’s Day celebrations.
Instead, in all probability, the incident would have been followed up by an editorial in the party’s mouthpiece, Saamana, highlighting the Shiv Sena’s opposition to the annual 14 February celebrations.
Every year on Valentine’s Day, the Shiv Sena was a name that owners of restaurants, bars, greeting cards and gift shops, as well as young couples, in Maharashtra and other parts of the country, feared.
However, over the last few years, as the Shiv Sena transitioned to a much softer and liberal version of its previous self under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray and his millennial son, Aaditya, the party’s protests against Valentine’s Day too came to a stop.
Sena’s old brass chooses to rationalise this mellowing of stance as one of the success stories of the party. It is not the Shiv Sena that has changed, they said, but the society — which has improved for the better after committed and relentless protests by the party.
‘After Sena protests, Valentine’s Day took a cultured shape’
Vinayak Raut, senior Shiv Sena leader and Lok Sabha MP, said though the protests have stopped, the Shiv Sena’s ideology with regard to Valentine’s Day has not changed.
“We have always opposed the over-the-top westernised celebrations of Valentine’s Day, and not the concept of the day itself. Our opposition was to the repugnant exhibition of Valentine’s Day, with the way it used to take over college campuses, with couples displaying their affection openly,” he said, adding that the Shiv Sena’s demand has been that Valentine’s Day should be celebrated in a cultured manner.
“Now the society has also changed a lot in that regard. You don’t see such repulsive demonstrations of Valentine’s Day anymore. What happened in Bhopal was nowhere close to what the party believes in,” Raut said.
Former Shiv Sena MLA Vinod Ghosalkar said people now celebrate Valentine’s Day in a manner that suits the Indian culture, and much of the credit goes to the Shiv Sena’s relentless protests over the years.
“Back then, whatever was going on was absolutely against Indian culture. Restaurants, greeting card shops would be decorated and Valentine’s Day used to be celebrated at a scale almost as large as Holi or Diwali. At that time, Balasaheb (Sena founder Bal Thackeray) gave the call, and the Shiv Sena decided to put a stop to the consumerist, westernised nature of the way the day was being celebrated,” Ghosalkar said.
“Today, Valentine’s Day is a personal celebration and expression of love. The Shiv Sena’s andolan has been successful, and now that the change has happened there is no point in going on protesting. In his place, at that time, Balasaheb’s stand was right and today, Aaditya’s stand too is right,” he added.
Arvind Nerkar, a Shiv Sena functionary and former MLA, said, “Valentine’s Day is an expression of love and observed in the name of a saint.”
“Our opposition was to the repulsive nature of celebration — men harassing women with roses and greeting cards, couples kissing and hugging in public. We are against the blind following of western culture.”
“Today, our ideology is the same, but the society has changed a lot in that regard,” he added.
Shiv Sena’s history with Valentine’s Day
As Valentine’s Day celebrations became popular in India in the late 1990s, the Shiv Sena found a new political agenda that was in line with its right-wing palate of nativism and Hindutva — anti-westernisation.
Shiv Sena activists were known to vandalise gift shops selling Valentine’s Day greeting cards, rebuke couples dotting Mumbai’s seafront and public parks, and sometimes even force them into getting married.
Greeting card and gift company Archies had even taken Shiv Sena to court in 2002 seeking an injunction, worrying that the political party could target its outlets on Valentine’s Day.
Political analyst Hemant Desai said, “Valentine’s Day became popular in India only post-1995. Even in 2000 or so, Marathi newspapers used to carry articles explaining what Valentine’s Day exactly is. The popularity of Valentine’s Day gave the Shiv Sena its anti-westernisation agenda.”
Back then, Uddhav Thackeray, now Shiv Sena president and Maharashtra Chief Minister, had slammed Valentine’s Day as “an onslaught on Indian culture,” while Bal Thackeray maintained that anyone not wishing for violence on the day should just avoid celebrating it completely.
In 2006, through a Saamana editorial, Bal Thackeray suggested an Indian alternative to Valentine’s Day, saying it can be celebrated in the name of Heer-Ranjha, Laila-Majnu or even Bajirao-Mastani.
He reiterated that his party would continue to oppose Valentine’s Day and even congratulated college principals who had banned the celebrations within campuses.
The same year, however, Saamana carried an article titled, ‘Hrudayi Vasant Phultana (when spring blossoms in the heart)’, enumerating gift ideas for Valentine’s Day, and political watchers wondered if the party’s opposition to 14 February has mellowed.
But at the time, Sanjay Raut, executive editor of Saamana and the party’s Rajya Sabha MP, hit back maintaining that the party’s ideology was unchanged and the article was actually meant to guide Shiv Sena workers so they can keep an eye on the celebrations.
How Sena gradually mellowed its stance
Through the first decade of the 21st century, Desai said globalisation spread fast to Maharashtra’s cities, and the Shiv Sena’s anti-westernisation agenda did not work for the party at all.
“In a place like Mumbai especially, an anti-westernisation agenda did not help the party expand in any way and made it notorious across the country. After Bal Thackeray became inactive due to his poor health, Uddhav by himself did not steer any opposition to Valentine’s Day,” he said.
It was ahead of the 2012 civic elections in Mumbai that the Shiv Sena gradually muted its hard stance on Valentine’s Day.
Aaditya Thackeray, who is now an MLA and cabinet minister, had started growing in prominence within the party, and Mumbai’s demography too was undergoing a drastic change.
There were more young voters in the fray in Maharashtra and Mumbai too, much like in the rest of the country where around 50 per cent of the total voting population — 378.6 million out of the 762 million — now falls in the age bracket of 18-35 years.
In 2011, the student wing of the party said it wanted to focus on more important issues and shrugged off Valentine’s Day as having lost steam anyway.
While the protests largely stopped in the years after 2011, Aaditya made the party’s new stance on Valentine’s Day official just three years ago.
When a few persons claiming to be associated with the Shiv Sena in Uttar Pradesh announced their plan to take to the streets to oppose Valentine’s Day, Aaditya took to Twitter to distance the party from it.
“Absolutely not Party line. Will check who has done this and why,” he tweeted in 2018.
Absolutely not Party line. Will check who has done this and why.
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) February 12, 2018