Politics

Insecure Sena

Print edition : November 13, 2015

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at the swearing-in ceremony of State Ministers in Mumbai in December 2014. Photo: Shashi Ashiwal

Sudheendra Kulkarni, with his face smeared with ink, holds a copy of a book by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. Photo: REUTERS

Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali presenting a programme in Lucknow after the Shiv Sena prevented his performance in Mumbai. Photo: Nand Kumar/PTI

When Shiv sainiks stormed the BCCI's office in Mumbai on October 19 in protest against its president Shashank Manohar's (left) proposed meeting with Pakistan Cricket Board chief Shahrayar Khan. Photo: PTI

Aggression, hate-mongering, preying on irrational fears, street fighting—the Shiv Sena is at its own brand of politics again in a bid to be one up on its partner in the ruling alliance.

First there was the threat to disrupt Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai. Then there was the attempt to stop a function held for the release of a book, Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, by Pakistan’s former Foreign Secretary Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. And then there were Shiv Sainiks barging into the Mumbai office of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and intimidating its president, Shashank Manohar, for scheduling a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Shahryar Khan, on October 19. About 30 Sainiks shouted the standard anti-Pakistan slogans. Though the police were called, there was no word from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ office. The meeting was shifted to Delhi after the Sainiks left the venue of the meeting.

The sequence of recent events in Mumbai confirmed yet again that even after almost 50 years of its existence, the Shiv Sena has not been able to mature as a political party or prove itself worthy of being in power.

Emboldened by its success in preventing Ghulam Ali from singing in Mumbai, the Sena tried to stop the book release function organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

On the morning of the release, ORF chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni, who had refused to fall in with its demand, was accosted near his home by a gang of slogan-shouting Shiv Sainiks, dragged out of his car, and berated for being “anti-national”, and his head and face were blackened.

The Sena’s first mistake was in taking it for granted that Kulkarni would kowtow to it as the organisers of the Ghulam Ali concert had done. It was nothing if not stupid to target the man who was, until recently, not just in the upper echelons of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but was L.K. Advani’s trusted aide and adviser. Their second mistake was to think that their ruling partner, the BJP, would allow them to succeed. Intimidating a music concert organiser is one thing, intimidating the organisers of the Kulkarni-Kasuri programme is another. Sure enough, the BJP discreetly clamped down on the Sena, and the function went ahead with Fadnavis’ assurance of safety. But an enraged Sena bellowed that there was more to come.

Though the threat largely remained empty, Mumbai fell prey to its usual fear of the Sena. The most poignant example was the refusal by more than six hotels to accommodate a Pakistani family in the city. Apprehensive of their nationality, which would have to be registered on the mandatory Form C that hotels use for foreign guests, the small guest houses that the family tried to check into turned them away. They had come to the city to pray for the health of their son at the famous Haji Ali dargah but ended up spending the night on the pavement and left the next day.

Still seething over the slight over Kasuri’s book release, the Sena fumbled to prove it was right. The Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray defended the blackening of Kulkarni’s face by saying that it was a valid, democratic form of protest. Party chief Uddhav Thackeray muttered about pulling support from the ruling BJP-Sena alliance in Maharashtra. The party’s newspaper, Saamna, contributed its two bits by suggesting that Kulkarni felicitate terrorists as well. And when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Mumbai, Uddhav Thackeray was suddenly “called away” to one of the districts. Throughout all these theatrics, the BJP-led government maintained a distance, just ensuring as far as possible that its partner did not breach the laws too much.

Uneasy alliance

The recent incidents highlight the uneasy alliance between the Sena and the BJP. After Modi won the elections last year, there was a sense of apprehension in the Sena. The thinking was simple: if the BJP came to power in the State, the Sena worried, it would be sidelined in its own State. As it happened, the Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra did win last year, but unlike their earlier win in which the Sena had the majority of seats, this time it was the BJP which won 122 seats as opposed to the Sena’s 63. As expected, the saffron alliance continued but only after some hard back-room wrangling in which the Sena is believed to have thrown tantrums unused as it was to playing second fiddle in the partnership. The Sena even threatened to not join the government, but this did not happen. Unlike 1995 when the two had won the State elections for the first time and there was a Chief Minister from the Shiv Sena and a Deputy Chief Minister from the BJP, this time there was no post of deputy. And though the Sena got five ministerial berths, they were not key ones.

Resentment has been simmering since then and the row over a meat ban in Mumbai during a Jain festival in the middle of September and the Ghulam Ali and Kasuri incidents were flare-ups from a party that has been feeling frustrated and sidelined in what it considers its home turf. This was most clearly expressed by the Sena’s reaction to the meat ban during the Jain festival of Paryushan. More than meat–eating, it became a matter of which community eats meat and which does not. Battle lines were drawn, with the BJP supporting vegetarian Gujaratis and Jains who, by the way, some decades ago had felt the ire of the Sena which saw them as usurpers of the economy of the erstwhile Bombay and targeted their businesses. Later, these same “enemies” became friends when the Sena embraced the Hindutva movement. But there are clearly no friends when power is at stake, and when the Sena sensed the Gujarati-BJP closeness and saw in it a sidelining of itself, it launched the anti-meat ban attack. It projected the ban on eating meat during Paryushan as a conspiracy against Marathi manoos and took to the streets. Shiv Sainiks stood outside Jain temples holding live chickens by their legs and waving them about before killing them and selling the meat.

Political power jugglery

Such demonstrations have little to do with the Shiv Sena’s beliefs and more to do with political power jugglery; specifically, testing the waters for the 2017 municipal elections in Mumbai. To rally the meat-eating Marathi people against the vegetarian Gujaratis and to fall back on their oft-stated super-nationalist stance by targeting Ghulam Ali and Kasuri are just examples of the Sena throwing challenges to its senior partner, reminders that it has held the richest municipality in the country’s commercial capital for the past two decades. The two parties have partnered in the Mumbai municipal elections, too, and the Sena has always got the greater number of seats. This time, however, the BJP, emboldened by its power at the Centre and in the State, might try and make a go of it on its own. If this happens, and if the BJP does well then, it will be a body blow to the Sena. Such possibilities are what are fuelling the Sena’s current actions.

Since the Sena has never had a consistent philosophy, it continues to drift. Its only goal has been power, and so far it has achieved that with, to use a Mumbai word, dadagiri or bullying. Most comfortable with this, the Sena has ramped up its hatemongering again. In April, the Saamna had two astounding editorials. One advised stripping Muslims of their voting rights as a means to ending vote-bank politics. And the other suggested compulsory family planning methods for Christians and Muslims. And now the latest is the one advocating that ORF chairman Kulkarni felicitate terrorists.

Aggression, polarised politics, hate-mongering, preying on irrational fears, street fighting—these are the trademarks that the Sena never seems to outgrow. Never mind that it has hampered the growth of the party. Worse, its immaturity has betrayed the very electorate whose interests it claims to protect and on whose loyalties it has grown.

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