It seems that the Shiv Sena is staring at an unprecedented identity crisis despite having risen to power stitching an incoherent alliance — actually, owing to that — in Maharashtra. And ‘Hindutva’ seems to be Uddhav Thackeray’s only mantra to redeem his party, seeing the way he has been desperately trying to appropriate it after breaking up with his old Hindutva ally, the BJP. Though some call it Uddhav’s frantic bid to latch on to his core constituency which could be eroding as he cosied up to arch rivals, the Congress and the NCP, for the taste of power.
That’s not all. Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray is, in fact, gearing up to face a three-cornered battle in the State, apparently with the BJP, the Congress and the MNS. And, respectively, Hindutva, development and ‘Maratha Pride’ seem to be the three ultimate weapons to reclaim his party’s lost glory in Maharashtra.
Hindutva to Counter BJP?
Turning the tables on the BJP to grab the chief minister’s post, the Shiv Sena scripted a new power equation in Maharashtra after the assembly elections. The political manoeuvre consequently has endangered its Hindutva ideology, forcing Uddhav Thackeray to raise the pitch frequently to lay claim to it. The reason why he visited Ayodhya on 7 March — the day his government completed 100 days in office — was to “seek Ram Lalla’s blessings”, and to declare that “he had parted ways with the BJP, but not with Hindutva”. From the ‘Hindutva epicentre’, Uddhav made sure to assert that “the BJP is not Hindutva”, and went on to announce an aid of Rs 1 crore for the construction of a grand Ram temple.
“With one swift stroke, the Shiv Sena president tried to sever the BJP’s entitlement to Hindutva and avowed his own right to it; he didn’t forget to back it up referring to his father Bal Thackeray’s unflinching support for the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation when he was at the helm of the party.”
He also reminded them of the bricks, bearing the name of Lord Rama, being sent from Maharashtra in those days.
Has Shiv Sena Lost its Vote Bank Under Uddhav Thackeray?
The Shiv Sena rose to prominence firing up the Marathi Manoos to fight for their causes, but party founder and the Mascot of Marathi pride, Bal Thackeray, later embraced a broader Hindutva agenda. He was called ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts)’. Thus, the Hindutva allies — the BJP and the Shiv Sena — joined forces, and riding the wave of the Ram Mandir movement, bagged 94 seats together in the 1990 Maharashtra assembly elections.
In that era, the Shiv Sena had the big brother status in the alliance as it always scored bigger numbers in the polls.
When the alliance had its first government in 1995, Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi took on the CM’s mantle. The Shiv Sena stayed ahead of the BJP in the assembly polls even after Uddhav Thackeray took over as the working president of the party.
But after Bal Thackeray’s demise in 2012, the BJP outraced its ally in the assembly polls, winning almost double seats as compared to the Shiv Sena, which paved the way for a BJP chief minister in 2014. While the alliance didn’t fare well in 2019, the strike rate amid the partners remained the same.
“Apparently, the Shiv Sena has lost its vote bank under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray, while the BJP has consolidated its base on the Hindutva plank.”
For Shiv Sena, Hindutva Alone Is Not Enough Anymore
The unnerved Shiv Sena has resorted to conventional Hindutva strategy to tide over the crisis, but Uddhav cannot afford to adopt the same old tactics of Bal Thackeray. In a changed political scenario, remaining in the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance with the Congress and the NCP, the Shiv Sena knows its limits. The Gandhi family, so far, has kept it at arm’s length – remember, Rahul Gandhi skipped the chief minister’s swearing-in ceremony – as the Congress is mindful of the ideological difference with the ruling partner, and the impact it might have on its constituency if it tried to blur the lines that separate them.
“Therefore, Uddhav Thackeray, driven to tread carefully on Hindutva, seems to be pushing for development in Maharashtra, trying to make the best of the opportunity he has as chief minister.”
This is a much needed makeover as the party stood a distant fourth (or third) in the regions like Vidarbha, Western Maharashtra and North Maharashtra in the 2019 assembly polls, where farmers seem to be disenchanted with the Shiv Sena.
Essentially, with an aim to reach out to them, the Uddhav government has announced sops for the farmers in the Maharashtra budget, and a while ago, halted PM Modi’s ambitious bullet train project in the state, calling it a ‘white elephant’ when the farmers protested against its land acquisition policy. Similarly, to woo Dalits, the Uddhav government decided to withdraw 348 cases related to the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case.
MNS Waiting to Upset the Apple Cart
With the Shiv Sena’s performance declining in the 2019 Maharashtra assembly polls, the MNS has sprung into action, probably sensing an opportunity for itself, hoping that it could fill the space vacated by Uddhav’s party. First, Raj Thackeray revamped MNS launching a brand-new-all-saffron flag that features Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s royal seal. Then, taking a cue from his older cousin Uddhav, who inducted his son Aditya into his Cabinet, Raj Thackeray launched his own son Amit in the MNS.
Now, the MNS chief has announced a shadow Cabinet to keep a watch on the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in Maharashtra. Interestingly, Raj has given the tourism portfolio to his son, Amit, in the shadow Cabinet, as Uddhav’s son holds the same portfolio in the Maharashtra Cabinet.
Evidently, the road ahead is not going to be easy for the Maharashtra chief minister and Shiv Sena president. The challenges are tough, but as they say tough times actually test your strength; let’s see how politics unfolds in Maharashtra.