In Maharashtra, What Truly Matters to the Thackerays is ‘Survival’
Many commentators have remarked on the so-called ‘unholy’ alliance between the Shiv Sena, with its sharp focus on Hindutva, and the Congress, which continues to cling to its secularist ideology for whatever it is worth. Since Uddhav Thackeray became chief minister of Maharashtra, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who was said to be reluctant about associating with the Shiv Sena, has written a letter to him, hoping they could together run a ‘secular pro-poor government’. Uddhav tweeted back a gracious ‘thank you’, and avowed that the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi is committed to working tirelessly for the people of the state.
Congress & Shiv Sena’s ‘Togetherness’: Then vs Now
The Congress and the Shiv Sena striving together for the people of Maharashtra? It might seem odd to a generation of people not cognisant about the history of the state, but the two parties are not strange bedfellows at all. They got together in the 1960s and the 1970s to ‘save’ local Maharashtrians from being dominated and subsumed by ‘outsiders’ – Gujarati, Marwari, Sindhi, Parsi and Bohra Muslim entrepreneurs from the neighbouring states, and South Indian white collar workers peopling the state bureaucracy, and private companies reducing Maharashtrians to mere Class-3 and Class-4 workers in their own state.
Indeed, the Shiv Sena then was jokingly referred to as the ‘Vasant Sena’, for the massive support it got from the then chief minister Vasantrao Naik and Pradesh Congress President Vasantdada Patil. As Gandhians, they could not afford to be seen as militating against South Indian and Gujarati migrants to Bombay, and covertly supported, even guided, Thackeray in his sub-nationalistic campaign of jobs and housing to locals.
But once that was achieved, Bal Thackeray was reduced to being a paper tiger. To stay relevant, he took a sharp turn to the Right, placing religion above region, abandoning the Congress and sealing ties with the BJP.
Bal Thackeray Went Wherever Good Fortune Took Him
After the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, when Thackeray found that the Muslims had extended an olive branch to him by voting for his party substantially in the 1995 elections to the assembly, he promptly abandoned Hindutva and called for a secular structure like a school or hospital for the poor, at the disputed site in Ayodhya.
A few years later when he lost power in Maharashtra, and he found the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee making overtures to Muslims, he called for their disenfranchisement even while the then crop of BJP leaders were not of a mind to treat Muslims as second-class citizens in the country. Earlier in the 1970s, when the Shiv Sena fell short of a majority in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, he had no problems seeking the support of the Indian Union Muslim League after a vicious campaign demonising Muslims for not singing the Vande Mataram.
How Uddhav Is Different From His Father
However, Uddhav Thackeray showed more consistent commitment to Hindutva than his father, and in abandoning the Marathi manoos’ aspirations for the Ram temple in Ayodhya, he may have made a strategic mistake in allowing the Shiv Sena’s distinct cultural identity to be overshadowed by the BJP and Hindutva.
There were always three kinds of people in the Shiv Sena – ‘violent extortionists’, ‘extortionists’ not necessarily believing in violence, and those who were there merely for Marathi ethos or regional pride. Bal Thackeray actively and consciously encouraged the first two, but Uddhav took it upon himself to mainstream the Shiv Sena, rid it of the unsavoury lumpen and violent elements and make it acceptable to and the first choice of middle-class Maharashtrian intellectuals who did not like the ugly picture of their community painted by Shiv Sena ‘goons’.
Shiv Sena’s Race for Survival
When Bal Thackeray raged against Muslims for not singing ‘Vande Mataram’, he did so only because he thought it would win more seats in the BMC. When he called for a secular structure in Ayodhya, it was merely to shore up minority support at the next elections. His current ideology was always governed by personal interest. He could drop either Hindutva or anti-minority sentiment like a hot potato to accrue political gains for his party.
But like his father, Uddhav has the uncanny knack of sniffing out which way the political wind is blowing. For, the Hindutva issue seems to have played out with the Supreme Court verdict which the minorities have not resisted. The aspirations of the Marathi people of all communities will continue to rise, with or without an economy in the doldrums. He must now address this, and he knows he can do that only with the Congress and NCP. The BJP is ‘good’ for the mandir, but unable to get a grip on the economy.
Call Uddhav an opportunist, but both he and his father proved to be the best weathercocks in the country. In the race for survival, only the fittest live to tell the tale. Uddhav Thackeray has made sure he does.
(Sujata Anandan is a journalist, and author of `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever', 'Maharashtra Maximus: The state, its people & politics' and tweets @sujataanandan. This is a an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)