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Shiv Sena On The Threshold
Of Disintegration

By Kumar Ketkar

01 November, 2004
The Indian Express

For the Shiv Sena, the moment of reckoning has come. If the Sena-BJP alliance had won, perhaps, this moment could have been postponed. Power would have held the alliance together and the Sena could have gained a breather.

Indeed, it would not have been difficult for the outfit to have won. Even a quick glance at the Maharashtra results would make it clear that the Congress Front won almost by fluke. The elections were too close to call. In as many as 31 seats, victory could have gone either way. The margins
were so narrow that even God, forget the psephologist, would have got it wrong. Leaders of the Congress Front was in a state of shock after the results as they had anticipated electoral humiliation, notwithstanding the bravado they had displayed during the campaign. They knew in their
heart of their heart that the performance of the Democratic Front government for all the five years it was in power was dismal, to put it mildly.

During the campaign, they had perceived a very strong anti-incumbent current and even the Maratha strongman had conceded defeat in private. On the morning of the results, he had started an arithmetical exercise to somehow reach that magical number of 145, with help from the small parties and rebels. Today he may be gloating about the NCP's two-seat lead over the Congress, but on the morning of October 16, he was gasping - and it was not because of his indifferent health.

Be that as it may, a victory is a victory and a defeat, a defeat. Instead of Sharad Pawar and his Nationalistic Congress Party facing that moment of reckoning, history has handed over that bitter experience to Balasaheb Thackeray, who has ridden the Shiv Sena tiger for almost 39 years now. The Thackerays have virtually enjoyed First Family status in Maharashtra for the past 20 years, although the Sena was in power for just over four years - 1995 to 1999. It is difficult to decide whether it was Thackeray's charisma or his terror which had inspired large numbers of lumpen Marathi youth. Bal, before he became Don Balasaheb, was in his forties when he founded the Sena. He held sway over his saffron guards for close to four decades. He did this, not with any ideology or by building a well-knit organisation. The Sena was a spontaneous movement and the Marathi urban youth felt drawn towards Thackeray because he appeared to provide some meaning to their utterly purposeless and otherwise hopeless existence.

Mumbai became the capital of Maharashtra after a long drawn movement for Samyukta Maharashtra. But industry and trade continued to be controlled by the Gujaratis and Marwaris. The white collar jobs
appeared to be going to the South Indians ("Madrasis", as the Sena called them). Small businesses, shops and establishments, taxis and restaurants, belonged to the Punjabis or the Shetty community. In the otherwise cosmopolitan and plural social life of Mumbai, the working class as well as lower middle-class Marathi youth felt lost. Mumbai belonged to him and yet he did not belong to Mumbai. The Shiv Sena was born out of this frustration and cultural identity crisis. It was a collective, and often violent, expression of that frustration.

But this frustration was Mumbai-centric in nature and, therefore, the Sena could not really spread its tentacles over the rest of Maharashtra - apart from the Konkan region because, geographically and culturally, Mumbai is a part of the Konkan. In the rest of the state, it had to recruit its members from disgruntled elements within the Congress party. There can be no doubt about it, Mumbai was the soul of the Shiv Sena, a territory where it could exercise its invisible, and sometimes visible, terror. A Shiv Sena "bandh" call would evoke a total response. Nobody would dare to venture out. Balasaheb's charisma grew out of this ability to create terror. The Gujarati-Marwari businessmen and industrialists sought protection from the Sena, the managements of manufacturing units used the Sena to break
strikes led by the Communists, the leaders of the ruling Congress surreptitiously promoted the Sena, sometimes to blackmail the central government and sometimes to settle scores within their own party.

Consequently the importance of the Sena and Balasaheb grew. For the past decade, the Thackerays had also become social celebrities. Bollywood crawled before Balasaheb, and it was a relationship mediated by the mafia. It was in everybody's self-interest to pay respects to the Sena chief. After the Sena-BJP came to power in 1995, the icon became much larger than life. The BJP Front, although in power in Delhi from 1998, had to bow before the Sena! Often this was humiliating to the Sangh Parivar, but the humiliation was silently swallowed because, without the Sena, the BJP was electorally weak. Moreover, Thackeray's violent rhetoric against the Muslims, against Pakistan or Bangladeshis suited the BJP. Balasaheb enjoyed this all-round adulation. An artist and cartoonist at his core, and kingmaker rather than a formal king, he displayed with gusto the power that he now had. The Shiv Sena's strength as well as its weakness was its living icon - Balasaheb.

But time was extracting its price. As Thackeray grew older he got increasingly isolated even within his family and among the top echelons of the party. Yet none of them - neither Manohar Joshi nor Narayan Rane, neither Uddhav nor Raj Thackeray - had any independent existence. If the
Sena-BJP alliance had won, even marginally, the Sena would have got a shot in the arm. Balasaheb would have grown in stature and would perhaps have even competed with none other than Shivaji Maharaj himself. But this defeat has come like a body blow and that, too, when the infirmities of age had caught up with the man and his image!

Today the Sena has become a pathetic shadow of its supremo. With no ideology or faith to hold on to, with no organised set-up apart from the undependable network of frustrated and militant lumpens; with no second line leadership or charismatic successor, the Shiv Sena stands on the threshold of disintegration. The internecine rivalry between Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray, as well as between Joshi and Rane will soon consume the outfit. As for the Icon that has presided over the Sena's fortunes, it has become a mere Cut-out.

The writer is editor, 'Loksatta'











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