Shiv Sena On
By Kumar Ketkar
01 November, 2004
The Indian Express
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.
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
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
The writer is editor, 'Loksatta'