Uddhav Thackeray's Fall & the Changing Face of Hindutva Politics in India
While parties like Shiv Sena face an ideological crisis, BJP seems to control how Hindutva politics shapes in India.
When the Maharashtra state assembly session concluded on 4 July after the trust vote, the situation was rather extraordinary – a Shiv Sena-BJP combine proved majority on the floor of the house as Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress sat in the Opposition.
Between the Uddhav Thackeray and the Eknath Shinde faction, which one is the real Shiv Sena is a question we'll leave for the party to answer.
What we'll dissect here, however, is how Maharashtra's saffron party reached this stage, and how much of it has to do with Shiv Sena's deviation (or the lack of it) from its core ideology of Hindutva.
For those unfamiliar with the issue, the trust vote in Maharashtra assembly brought to climax a political thriller that was unfolding in the state over the last two weeks.
On 21 June, several Shiv Sena MLAs left Mumbai for Surat under the leadership of Shinde, Thackeray's close confidante and party MLA from a constituency in Thane, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Their demand was for the Shiv Sena to ditch the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance with NCP and Congress and join hands with the BJP.
While initially, Thackeray refused to throw in the towel, the number of rebel MLAs continued rising as more and more people joined Shinde's camp – first in Surat, then in Guwahati.
The entire episode saw a theatrical ending with Thackeray's resignation and just when everybody thought that BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis will become Maharashtra's next CM, he sprung a surprise by declaring that Shinde will be Thackeray's successor.
Even as multiple reasons emerged behind the political upheaval within the Sena, Shinde and the BJP emphasised the most on Thackeray abandoning the Hindutva ideology.
Shiv Sena's Ideological Crisis and BJP's Hindutva Hegemony
The roots of Hindutva as a political ideology date back to the 1920s. In over a 100 years since then, the ideology has asserted itself through several political and non-political outfits. "What has changed in the last 5-7 years, however, is that people are no longer diffident about having strong Hindutva views," said author and journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.
"Aggressive Hindutva views means having a certain amount of abhorrence towards the religious minorities, especially the Muslims and the Christians," he added.
He further explained that when Thackeray and Shiv Sena broke ranks with the BJP in 2019 and joined hands with the Congress and the NCP, it was clear that there will be some level of dilution in Sena's 'Hindutva' brand of politics.
"Uddhav Thackeray between 2014-2019 realised that he is no longer the big brother in the alliance forged between his father (Bal Thackeray) and the BJP leaders of that era. He had chief ministerial ambitions and to fulfil them he joined hands with NCP and Congress. Both of these parties were uncomfortable in working with Uddhav Thackeray because of ideological reasons," Mukhopadhyay said.
To address the fears of the NCP and the Congress, the three parties then drafted the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) – a document that laid foundation for the three alliance partners to agree on some basic principles and come together.
The preamble of this document, despite Shiv Sena's initial disagreement, emphasised on the word "secular". "The alliance partners commit to upholding the secular values enshrined in the Constitution. On the contentious issue of national importance, especially having repercussions/consequences on the secular fabric of the nation, the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress will take a joint view after holding consultations and arriving at a consensus," it said.
Over a course of the next two-and-a-half years, Uddhav Thackeray and Shiv Sena continued to take a seemingly "secular" stand on most issues. The party criticised The Kashmir Files (a Vivek Agnihotri film pushing a hypernationalist narrative around the Kashmir conflict), former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma's controversial remarks against the Prophet, and also accused the BJP of using Gyanvapi row to stoke communal tensions with the 2024 elections in sight.
Speaking to The Quint, author and journalist Dhirendra K Jha pointed out that Shiv Sena's ideological crisis stems from its regional roots. "The Shiv Sena did not start its political journey as a party that only espoused Hindutva. During those days, Hindutva wasn't fashionable. It was an outfit that relied on regional chauvinism along with the Hindutva ideology," he said.
The Shiv Sena, as a party, was founded to address the woes of the "Marathi manoos" of Bombay (present-day Mumbai). It placed itself as an outfit representing the Marathi speakers of Mumbai. While this worked well in metropolitan areas with large migrant population, to expand its base in rural Maharashtra which had an overwhelming Marathi population, and which did not need much representation, the Shiv Sena in the 1980s moved towards Hindutva politics.
Shiv Sena's journey from a regional party fighting for the Marathi-speaking people to one that embraced Hindutva and finally to a more secular outfit has given birth to an ideological crisis that the Thackerays must now deal with to stay relevant.
"This is quite contrary to how the BJP's brand of Hindutva has evolved over the years," Mukhopadhyay pointed out.
"Under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the BJP has gone around embracing leaders coming from different adversarial ideological backgrounds. Their main pursuit is acquiring power because they know that once a person comes to the party's fold they will not be able to articulate their ideological positioning. The BJP, thus, seems to be in complete control of how Hindutva politics is shaping and evolving in India.Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Author and Journalist
The 'Right' Turn in Indian Politics
Zooming out of Maharashtra, a picture of several parties with national ambitions such as Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC), suggests that more and more political outfits are leaning towards soft-Hindutva, if not full blown Hindutva politics.
For instance, the AAP sponsored a journey of elderly pilgrims to the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Kejriwal positioned himself as a 'Hanuman bhakt' on national television, and the party has so far maintained a strategic silence on crimes against minorities. In case of the TMC, the party, during the 2022 Goa Assembly elections, forged an alliance with far-right Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), a long-term ally of the BJP and Banerjee has repeatedly asserted her Hindu identity in public meetings, though without diluting her stand on secularism or minorities.
"The fulcrum of Indian politics has been shifting to the right for a long time. It was started by Indira Gandhi in the 1980s when she communalised elections in 1983 in Jammu and Kashmir. The same approach was continued by Rajiv Gandhi in matters such as the Shah Bano case and the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute," Mukhopadhyay said.
"While this has been going on for a long time, politicians, even today, do not shy away from flashing their Hindu identity. Be it Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal or Mamata Banerjee. The BJP has set the playing field for others. More and more politicians are openly embracing their Hindu identity. It is just a matter of the varying degrees to which they assert it," he added.
And while Jha largely agreed with what Mukhopadhyay had to say, he warned against this shift in the ideological window of political parties.
"You cannot defeat the BJP at its own game. The parties which think Hindutva posturing for votes might give them an edge over the BJP are mistaken. While it is true that communalism and Hindutva politics has developed roots in our society, especially in the North and Northwest India, Hindutva as a prerequisite to winning elections is hard to believe," he said.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.