Tigers, traitors in a Maharashtra twist

By Jagdish Rattanani

The BJP and the Shiv Sena have been running a mini, local area version of competitive Hindutva politics for sometime now. As the Sena leader Sanjay Raut told the treasury benches in Parliament once: “We do not need certificates on being strong Hindus from anyone. We are the headmasters of the Hindutva school you study in.” That comment, and many others that have been exchanged in the last two-and-a-half-years, were part of a vicious political war that brought the two “natural allies” virtually at each other’s throats. For those who paid careful attention to the State, it offered a fascinating account of how power was the prize and everything else a tool. This is of course understood to be the case in the charged political climate of today but in Maharashtra it was a game played out in the open. If Hindutva politics is characterised as hatred of the other, here was Hindutva that showed hatred in the family as it were, hatred of one version of itself.
It is against this backdrop that the BJP had vowed to pull down the government of Uddhav Thackeray, whose sin, after all, only was to ask to keep the position of the Chief Minister for the Shiv Sena, so that the two parties work as equal partners in their long-standing alliance. He claimed this was agreed; the BJP said there was no such deal and the bigger partner in terms of MLAs (which is the BJP) would keep the prize. It was the BJP’s refusal to play on that equal footing that forced Uddhav Thackeray to form an alliance with the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). In return, the BJP launched relentless attacks on Thackeray and his team, with the heavyweight support of the Centre.
The BJP’s Maharashtra project has now succeeded at last. Uddhav, son of the founder of the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray, is out and a rebel Sena member Eknath Shinde has become the 20th Chief Minister of Maharashtra, with the BJP’s support. The BJP, half-a-term gone, still could not grab the Chief Minister’s position. But with a government it controls, there is a lot that can be done to change the narrative and build the base. The problem: as the elderly and astute Sharad Pawar has pointed out, the one issue before the new government will be to gain credibility with the people of Maharashtra.
The manner in which the split in the Sena was engineered, the offer of the Chief Minister’s position to the breakaway faction and the sudden inclusion of BJP’s former Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis as the Deputy Chief Minister to balance power equations clearly laid bare the fears of the Shiv Sena since the last elections – that the one aim of the BJP has been to weaken the Shiv Sena, to turn it into a junior, even insignificant, partner, and to grow the BJP’s own base in the State.
Right now, the Shiv Sena is a party that was bested – the tiger that was beaten by what it calls traitors. It was the underdog that put up a fight but then went down under the weight of the BJP giant. It strengthens the image of totalitarian control by BJP today – and the uneasy and growing realisation that the party can get away with anything. While the ED summons and investigates Shiv Sena members, no questions are asked on who paid for the five-star bills and chartered flights that secured the breakaway MLAs in BJP-ruled States.
Politically, the Shiv Sena will have to come to terms with how so many of its MLAs rebelled, sitting within a party that itself was known for complete control, now not catching even a hint of the drama that was underway right under its nose, and ongoing for some time at least. This is clearly weak political control.
The Shiv Sena was built as a one-man party under the complete control of the Sena pramukh. It would be unimaginable for MLAs to revolt against Bal Thackeray. This writer has travelled with the senior Thackeray and sat with him while he interviewed candidates for party tickets – he could mock, dismiss, chuckle, question – and still would be revered. Nobody dared question Balasaheb.
That kind of control has clearly not come to the son, who has been more in the nature of a gentlemanly politician, often seen speaking in a measured tone and noted for decisions that have made him and his son Aaditya Thackeray a darling of progressives and important environmental groups. This happened particularly after Mumbai’s lungs, as the Aarey forest region in the Western suburbs is known, was spared the concretisation that was coming with a metro rail project pushed by the BJP but stopped by the Shiv Sena. Surprisingly, this is the very first decision that the new government has revoked, even before it had settled down. Soon, bulldozers will be uprooting trees in Aarey and the first fight of civil society with the BJP government will likely begin here.
For Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena, this is a challenging time. Yet, the BJP has given him material. It is for him to turn it into political dynamite. As the new government works on its credibility, the Sena will only have to hammer away the point that a Maharashtra government was broken on orders from New Delhi, by MLAs who went into hiding in Gujarat. Shinde will find it challenging to convince the people of the State that this is what Thackeray would have wished – the story that he has peddled soon after he rebelled. In his words, what has happened is a “victory for the Hindutva ideology of Balasaheb Thackeray.” He should know that Balasaheb would never have stood for this, but equally he would know that Hindutva is a label to be used, power is the ideology and Uddhav Thackeray is now the enemy. Uddhav Thackeray will have to take his case to the people very fast, and take on the role of Maharashtra’s wounded warrior who would fight to the last.
(The writer is a journalist and faculty member at SPJIMR. Views are personal) (Syndicate: The Billion Press) (e-mail: [email protected])

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