Shiv Sena’s 50 year journey and the party’s beliefs that changed Maharashtra politics

19 June 2015, marked the beginning of the 50th anniversary year of the Shiv Sena. Though Shiv Sena has been in power of Maharashtra with its ally BJP, hardly for 5 years out of these 50, it is difficult to imagine Maharashtra’s politics of the last decades, without the Shiv Sena.

shiv sena Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

Bal Thackeray remained at the helm of the party for a long 40 years, influencing in many ways the political evolution of the western State of India. By their sheer aggressive identity politics, their emotional campaigns, the notoriety and the mercurial elasticity, the Shiv Sena has managed to draw national attention for so many years, despite being a regional outfit. Bal Thackeray Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!   The Congress and the Congress-led fronts were at the helm of the State mostly since 1960, the year when the State of Maharashtra was created on the linguistic basis. In the process, three different States were created – Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka.  The most contentious issue in creation of the States was Mumbai (Bombay) itself. The economically powerful Gujarati business community wanted Bombay with Gujarat or at least wanted it to be categorized as a Union Territory on the lines of Delhi. But the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Movement’, encouraged the demand for making Bombay exclusively the Maharashtra capital.  Balasaheb’s father, Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, widely known as “Prabodhankar” (named after the social reformist periodical, named “Prabodhan”) was one of the main leaders of the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Chalwal’ (United Maharashtra Movement).

Points to Ponder

Also it’s not just a coincidence that Bombay changed its name to, ‘Mumbai’, when Sena-BJP combine was in power in the mid-nineties. Congress, whose central leader was Jawaharlal Nehru at the time came to power in the newly formed State in 1962,. Shiv Sena came into existence in 1966, four years after Congress got into power. Balasaheb inherited the idea of creating Shiv Sena from his father. As the leader of the chauvinistic Maharastrian movement, his idea was that the Congress as a national party did not have the love and affection for Mumbai and its Marathi Manoos. Maharashtra and Mumbai had their own identity, and only a truly Maharashtrian party could accomplish them. If they were not concerned about their unique culture and language, they would be going to be marginalized by business-centric cosmopolitanism.

Observing 50 Years

The weather God spoiled the party. Due to the heavy rain on Friday, Shiv Sena had to call off its anniversary programme, scheduled at Shanmukhanand Hall in Matunga, an area known for massive waterlogging. 50 years Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey! Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray has said, “Instead of celebrating, the Shiv Sainiks are out on the streets, helping people. It would have been wrong to hold Shiv Sena’s anniversary celebrations when Mumbai was affected by heavy rains.” The helpless waterlogging in the city has drawn criticism from the opposition parties, Congress and NCP, for Sena, which runs the ‘Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’.  Senior Shiv Sena leader and MP Sanjay Raut has however said, “We decided to postpone our function for now. We will announce a suitable date, later.”Raut, who is also the Executive Editor of Party mouthpiece ‘Saamna’, said: “At present because of peculiar circumstances, Shiv Sena is playing second fiddle. But Shiv Sena has accepted the challenge to become numero uno again.” “Bal Thackeray is the pioneer of regional identity politics in the country. It was Balasaheb who understood the need of regional identity politics, 50 years ago and it is in the last two decades that the country’s politics is driven by regional aspirations and identity,” Raut said.

Balasaheb and the Party’s Journey

“The party’s journey has been full of challenges and struggle. It was Bal Thackeray who saw opportunity in every challenge he came across. It was said regional identity politics was not in the interest of unity of the country. No one took the party seriously when it was formed 50 years ago. Everyone said the outfit would be wound up in few months. Critics also said the party will not grow beyond Mumbai and Thane. But, Shiv Sena spread its wings across the state and also came to power,” the senior leader summarised, in an interview.

shiv sena womens wing Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

The Beginning

The Shiv Sena was founded on June 19, 1966 in Mumbai, with the sole intention of fighting the alleged injustice in employment and related matters being faced by the Maharashtrians. The reason mentioned for the injustice was the influx  of people from other states, among whom it mainly focused on the South Indians, derogatorily naming them as the “Yandu Gundus“! Taking a cue from the national sentiment in the sixties, specially after the Indo-China war, Shiv Sena then took up crusade against the Communists also, branding them as anti-national, and launched a series of activities to oppose Communist Trade Union led strike in Bombay factories.

shiv sena cartoon Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

The bias against Muslims was visible but not as public outbursts, and this remained a dormant feature till the mid-eighties.

The Precursor

The groundwork for the formation of the Shiv Sena had actually started six years ago, with the launching of the Marathi weekly “Marmik” by Bal Thackeray on August 13, 1960, just three months after the formation of the state of Maharashtra on May 1, 1960.

Bal Thackeray Young Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

Incidentally, the inauguration of “Marmik”, was by none other than the first Chief Minister of Maharashtra and the powerful Congress leader, Y.B. Chavan! The launching of “Marmik”, became a precursor to the formation of the Shiv Sena, positioned against the background of a spreading mass movement for ‘Samyukta Maharashtra’, i.e. a united Maharashtra inclusive of Mumbai, Konkan, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada regions (exclusive of Gujarat). The formation of a uni-lingual state of Maharashtra, with Mumbai as its capital, was achieved on May Day 1960 only after a long and bitter battle.  This struggle started in the year 1955 peacefully and democratically, and continued for next five years. Thousands of people were arrested and lathi-charged, in the course of this movement.  105 lives were sacrificed, in police firings during the Morarji Desai-led State Government during 1955-56. The ‘Hutatma Chowk’ (earlier Flora Fountain) in Fort area bears the precious memory. The struggle was led by the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti’, a motely group that also had Socialists, Communists and other people from different political ideologies. The colonially defined boundary of Bombay province included areas of Gujarat and Karnataka, but excluded the Marathi speaking regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada. The struggle for the city of Bombay brought to the surface the contradiction between the dominant interests in agriculture (the rich and middle farmers of Maharashtra) and those in industry (the non-Marathi commercial and industrial capital, concentrated in Bombay at this stage but with close links to local commercial capital in rural western Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha). shiv sena bjp uddhav thackeray maharashtra assembly poll Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey! Before the Maharashtra State was achieved, to participate in the democratic process, the Samyukta Samiti contested the Parliamentary and Assembly polls of 1957 and succeeded in giving the Congress a big jolt, and Congress could scrape through only because of its support base in Gujarat and Vidarbha region. In the same year, the Samyukta Samiti contested and swept the Bombay Municipal Corporation polls, defeating Congress. The Samyukta Maharashtra movement crated pride and a sense of identity among the Maharastrians, which was initially completely secular and non-partisan, but as it consequently gave rise to a strong sense of regional chauvinism which was tapped by Thackeray’s “Marmik” successfully and paved the way for formation of the Shiv Sena.

Bal Thackeray’s Brainchild

The Shiv Sena was formed on 19 June, 1966, in Bombay, six years after the formation of the State. The first mass rally of the Shiv Sena was held at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai on October 30, 1966. It was the day of auspicious Hindu festival Dussehra. A day that marks the triumph of good over evil. On every Dussehra day in subsequent years, similar Shiv Sena rallies have been held on Shivaji Park. Like the “Shakha” concept, this practice, had also been adopted from the RSS,by Shiv Sena. RSS also organise its annual Dussehra rallies at Nagpur. There was a big turn-out for this first-ever rally, which is said to have pleasantly surprised Thackeray himself. Apart from the Thackeray father-and-son duo and other Shiv Sena leaders, a prominent Congress leader Ramrao Adik also addressed this Shiv Sena rally! Though Shiv Sena was built in the line of another major Hindu organisation RSS, the Shiv Sena, throughout Balasaheb’s time had some sort of intimacy with Congress leaders. Many of ‘Marmik’ functions were graced by big Congress leaders. Congress Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik and his Home Minister Balasaheb Desai, were so cordial with Sena leadership that, reportedly police looked the other way when the Shiv Sainiks went rampage, quite often! Another Congress Chief Minister Vasantdada Patil, was apparently helped Shiv Sena to gain control over the Mumbai Municipal  Corporation, years back! Bal Thackeray lived in Bombay’s Shivaji Park area, surrounded mostly by Marathi-speaking professionals, administrative and clerical workers.

Thackeray began his professional career as a cartoonist in Mumbai, with the English language daily The Free Press Journal, but left it in 1960 to begin his own Marathi political weekly Marmik. His political philosophy was largely shaped by his father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, who advocated the creation of a separate linguistic state of Maharashtra for the cultural, linguistic identity and overall achievement of the Marathi people.

Through Marmik, Bal Thackeray started a campaign against the growing influence of non-Marathis in Mumbai. In 1966, Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena, a party to advocate for the interests of Maharashtrians in Mumbai’s political and professional landscape. The immediate and manifest provocation behind such a polarisation was a founded or unfounded fear of the loss of jobs for Marathi workers in Bombay and a widespread belief that the continuing influx of migrants from the southern States of India was responsible for it! The real causes of the fear had grown over the past many years.

Having won Bombay as the capital of the Marathi state against the resistance of investor Gujarati community, there was an expectation among middle-class Maharashtrians that their job prospects in the city would substantially improve. Contrary to the belief, during the first half of the decade, however, no dramatic changes had occurred. Between 1960 and 1965 Bombay attracted a unequal share of industrial capital compared to the rest of India. Unlike most other major cities where State enterprises came to dominate the economic scene, like Punjab or Tamilnadu, the overenthusiastic pattern of urbanisation in Bombay allowed relatively free lead for the growth of private industry and capital. Balasaheb, as Bal Thackeray was popularly known, became a  popular icon among the lower-middle class and white-collar Maharashtrians rapidly. In the sixties, there were instances of stagnated growth, industrial workers’ strikes, labour unrest, student agitations demanding jobs , spontaneous popular protests and spurts of violent attacks on official state functionaries and institutions. By focusing on south Indian managers and by accusing them of native preferences in employment for secretarial and clerical jobs, the Shiv Sena managed to deflect attention from the socio-cultural and economic consequences of unchecked capitalist development in industry and of dire state of  Government controlled  areas of land, housing, healthcare, education and  public sector job markets.

Over The Years

Shiv Sena Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

Though the Shiv Sena was born in 1966, it remained confined to the Mumbai-Thane belt till the mid-1980s. It tried to contest as political party earlier too, but except some breakthroughs at Municipal level, it was mostly unsuccessful to establish as a party at national or even at State level. After continuous political setbacks in the late 1970s, the Shiv Sena leadership realised that in order to remain relevant in Mumbai the State Capital, the party needed to expand beyond Mumbai.

Shiv Sena’s Marathi Asmita (Marathi Pride) issue was fine, but political power and executive power were always with Congress, in the State. Also there is the law of diminishing return. Shiv Sena’s prime success came truly, in the first decade of its existence when it ensured housing and jobs for lower end of the society. A Maharashtra Government resolution on 85 per cent jobs in Government and private sector in the State for locals was due to hard persuading from the Shiv Sena. But observers feel that, the Shiv Sena has a chieved not much after the first decade

As the outfit  had grown older and bigger, Shiv Sena desperately began to search for issues to stay relevant.In the 1970s and 1980s, Bal Thackeray almost reinvented his party harping on anti-Muslim and pro-Hindu issues. According to political historians, the Sena initially was content being a Mumbai-Thane-centric party. But compelled by end stagnation, when the party ultimately began to move outside Mumbai, there was competition in the  from parties like NCP, led by  Sharad Pawar,  who apart from his national stature, has  always tried to project himself as a strong regional leader, whether he was with Congress or outside the outfit.

Pawar’s decision in 1986 to return to the Congress helped the Sena gain a foothold in the Marathwada region and in the 1990 Assembly election, Shiv Sena emerged as the largest opposition party with 52 seats.

bal thakeray with uddhav thackeray Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

But it had to wait, to actually became a serious political party only after 1989, when it forged an alliance with the Bharatiya JanataParty.

Banking on a communally pola rised political environment , following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the Mumbai Bomb Blasts, and riots in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra, the Sena-BJP  coalition rode to power for the first time in the State in 1995. When they lost power in 1999, the Sena went through a serious power struggle betwee n the party’s then Executive President Uddhav Thackeray, the son of an ailing Bal Thackeray, and his cousin, the political heir in wait , Raj Thackeray.

bal thackeray raj uddhav Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

Success and Wins

The Sena leadership finally went to Uddhav Thackeray, under whose leadership the party won two elections to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai in 2007 and 2012, and followed it up with its comfortable success in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

HQ Shiv Sena Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

Shiv Sena Today

Coming out of Sena, Raj gave a political fillip to Congress, by dividing Sena votes. But soon his over enthusiasm, mindless hooliganism and lack of any bigger vision or goal, almost marginalised his party ‘Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’(MNS).

uddhav thakeray shiv sena Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

This came as a benefit for Sena no doubt. But BJP as a powerful national party has cut Sena to sizes as its State ally. After much dilly dallying Sena had to agree to play the second fiddle, without a choice. The relation between the two parties are now just strategic, not heart to heart any more.

New Expectations, Changed Scenario!

Once, in the sixties or in early seventies, when India was merely a developing nation, following Nehruvian Socialist model, Shiv Sena had grown on the resentment from the lower rungs of the society. A blue collar job was sufficient for a Maharastrian. Higher education was no pre-requisite foe a Shiv Sainik! trishul hindutva shiv sena maharashtra Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

But after the globalisation, that began in the 90s,  the world has changed a lot. Maharashtrians are not looking for those unskilled or semi-skilled jobs, generally taken by people from Bihar or eastern UP. The x-generation wants the bigger chunks of progress now. Jobs in Finance Market, Top Management and in global IT sector. Here the Sainiks are facing a big communication Gap. The new Generation Maharastrians are not easily attracted to Sena ideology of ultra chauvinism, like in the sixties, anymore. The job of a Taxi Driver or a poor Pani Puri Wala, is nowhere in their expectations. Also the long standing alliance with BJP is now just a shadow of the past. Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, the two stalwarts who could bring the two parties closer are no more. The influential Maharastrian BJP leader Nitin Gadkari does not have friendly relations with Shiv Sena. On the contrary he has good relations with Sharad Pawar and even Raj Thackeray.

amit shah with uddhav thackeray Shiv Senas 50 Year Journey!

The Future

The Sena does not agree now with most of the NDA policies, local or national. Then there are many local important issues like shifting of RBI, Naval Docks or Air India HQ, from Mumbai, which Sena and its Unions are vehemently against. The next big challenge before Sena is typically local too, the civic elections in 2017.

By Deep Basu 

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