Shiv Sena's Gordian Knot: Impact of diluting ideological purity for power
Shiv Sena needs to guard against any perceived surrender of its sovereignty.
Fast-paced and mind-boggling political realignments witnessed in Maharashtra after the assembly election results have sent tremors across the country with far-reaching consequences leaving many astute political pundits utterly dumbfounded.
The post-poll alliance between torchbearers of two diametrically-opposite and hitherto implacably-opposed ideologies of nationalism and secularism of Shiv Sena on one hand and Congress-NCP on the other is bound to bring deep convulsions in the future political discourse. Leaving aside speculation of longevity of such an alliance of disparate forces, it would be interesting to analyse a few key aspects and their impact on the future trajectory of the key architect of this triad namely Shiv Sena.
The twin pillars of Shiv Sena's raison ďêtre are its advocacy of fierce Hindutva and championing of nativist causes demanding primacy of rights of Marathi Manoos over the state's resources. The charisma of its iconic founder Hindu Hriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray was inextricably linked with these two non-negotiable canons. His mesmerising oratorical prowess, hard-hitting editorials, biting humor and ability to employ the most apposite cartoons helped build a brotherhood that commanded fierce loyalty & devotion transcending all castes among Marathi-speaking citizens primarily in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and adjoining Konkan region, which was the traditional area of large-scale outward migration feeding Mumbai's voracious demand for labour force.
Unlike caste based parties like SP, RJD, INLD, NCP or JD(S) that have a numerically strong caste as its anchor around which a charismatic leader has weaved a coalition of other smaller castes to give it heft; Balasaheb built Shiv Sena in a completely egalitarian style shunning altogether any caste based appeal. What mattered is party workers' fierce loyalty & dedication to the core principles of the party and to the Shiv Sena chief.
Rising unemployment and resultant angst among blue-collar working-class and white-collar lower middle-class natives in the fiercely competitive milieu of the Urbs Prima in Indis (Mumbai) was channelised by the Shiv Sena in late 1960s & early 1970s by launching strident agitations demanding fair representation for Marathi-speaking population in jobs in both public and private sector. Shiv Sena's Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti or Association for the Rights of Local Citizens successfully agitated for adequate representation for Marathi-speaking youth in numerous central PSUs, nationalized banks and insurance firms as well as private sector companies based in Mumbai and Thane region. These employment drives cemented a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie between Shiv Sena and native population. In addition to economic and livelihood issues, Shiv Sena tapped into several cultural and linguistic issues that agitated the locals who feared getting increasingly swamped by rising influx of migrants from other parts of the country.
The rise of Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1980s, persistent terrorist strikes targeting Mumbai aided and abetted by Pakistan with active connivance of some local collaborators & increasingly fractious discourse saw Shiv Sena's transformation into an ardent champion of Hindutva. The bedrock of Shiv Sena's three-decade alliance with the BJP was based on this shared, sacred belief of awakening Hindu Asmita through political mobilisation and championing of causes such as Uniform Civil Code, abrogation of Article 370 as well as overcoming centuries of perceived cultural subjugation that they believed had continued post-Independence under various left-liberal regimes that had captured all social, cultural and educational institutions.
After Balasaheb's passing away and split in the Shiv Sena, Raj Thackeray's MNS has positioned itself as the true inheritor of Shiv Sena's original cause of championing nativist issues. Over the years, Shiv Sena has tried to broadbase its appeal by trying to co-opt non-Marathi speakers in its fold, but with limited success. It continues to derive its votes almost entirely from Marathi-speakers. MNS' fierce agitations advocating primacy of Marathi-speakers over migrants from other States has often unnerved Shiv Sena that fears being overshadowed by its newer cousin in competing for their common 'object of affection' i.e. Marathi Manoos.
BJP is riding high on the successful delivery of two of the three core Hindutva issues of abrogation of Article 370 and building of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya within first few months of Modi government's second term. The likelihood of the third core issue of Uniform Civil Code as well as other issues of importance like Citizenship Amendment Bill, National Register of Citizens in all States, National Bill to prohibit forced conversions through coercion or inducements; being aggressively pushed by the broader Hindutva Parivar remains quite high. By severing ties with BJP and allied Hindu organisations encompassing the broad Hindutva Pantheon and joining hands with their ideological rivals, the Shiv Sena risks losing its other ideological plank of Hindutva.
A precipitate dash for power with ideological rivals who are bound to pressurise Shiv Sena into accepting a Common Minimum Program that explicitly forbids it into championing causes according primacy to Hindutva and pursuit of policies favouring Marathi Manoos over migrants is bound to cause upheaval once the initial enthusiasm of ascendance to power wears off in a few months. BJP and MNS will leave no stone unturned in catching Shiv Sena in a tough pincer by championing issues of Nationalism and primacy to locals over migrants respectively.
Shiv Sena needs to guard against any perceived surrender of its sovereignty under pressure from its new found secular allies on these twin core ideological issues that have defined its character since birth. Or else, it may well find itself in an ideological vortex confounding and alienating its ideologically-committed cadre and voters.
(The author is a commentator on politico-economic issues. Views expressed are personal)