Opinion: Uddhav Thackeray Can Claim 'Marathi Identity' Was Betrayed

"Shiv Sena is a lion's den, you can only go in, you can't come out."

This is what Manohar Joshi, who rose to Chief  Minister of Maharashtra, and later, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, said in response to a question on why he did not leave the Shiv Sena.

But that myth about the lion's den stands shattered to pieces with Shiv Sena leaving the party in such numbers that even the not-so-die-hard Sena supporters are aghast. Eknath Shinde did what former stalwarts Chagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray could not do. When they left the Sena, it created ripples but it did not turn into a tsunami; the Sena flourished. Today, the Sena is in such deep crisis that the very existence of the party is uncertain. This depends on whether Shinde is able to prove that more than two-thirds of MLAs stand with him against Uddhav Thackeray.

The Shiv Sena was never a traditional political party. It was more of a cult around one man, Balasaheb Thackeray. His word was law and he virtually ran Mumbai because Shiv Sainiks would follow his instructions blindingly. Despite not holding any post ever in the government, he was a law unto himself; he was 'Sarkar' for millions of Maharashtrians.

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Uddhav Thackeray has been reduced to a minority in the party founded by his father, Balasaheb Thackeray.

Balasaheb Thackeray was originally a cartoonist and had worked with the legendary R K Laxman. He was the son of Keshav Sitaram Prabodhankar Thackeray who was a reformer in his own right, and a very accomplished writer who had once "called for boycott of a temple which had refused to allow Dalits to offer worship." Sujata Anandan writes, "Bal Thackeray's father, at a public meeting, gave up his claim to his son and proclaimed that henceforth Balasaheb's life would be dedicated to uplifting Maharashtrians in Maharashtra."

'Secure Maharashtra for Maharashtrians' was the call of senior Thackeray which he wanted his son to carry forward. Before the inception of the Shiv Sena in 1966, 'Maharashtra for Maharashtrians' was a thought which needed to be consolidated; Balasaheb accomplished that task by forming a political party which was originally used by the Congress governments in Maharashtra to counter the communist trade union movement which was very powerful in the 1960s. It is said that the Congress then supported the Shiv Sena with 'money bags'. It is no wonder that Thackeray supported the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in the mid-1970s. The Sena then was not a Hindutva party. It stood for the 'Marathi Manush' who felt threatened by the migrants coming to Mumbai from other states to earn their living. Preservation of the Marathi Identity is even now significant in the tension between Delhi and Mumbai.

The Sena was comfortable with the BJP as long as it had an edge over the BJP in electoral politics. No BJP leader could afford to ignore 'Matoshree', the Thackaray residence, and survive in Maharashtra politics, but with the emergence of Narendra Modi as the supreme commander of the BJP at the centre, the equation changed. In 2014, the Sena and the BJP contested elections separately, with the Shiv Sena originally not supporting the BJP government in Maharashtra, but doing so later. But through it all, despite being an alliance partner in the government, the Shiv Sena was more critical of Modi and the BJP than any Opposition party.

In 2019, the Shiv Sena, despite contesting the assembly elections with the BJP, decided to part with it and aligned with Sharad Pawar's NCP and the Congress, which are ideologically the diametrically opposite of what the Sena supposedly stands for. The Shiv Sena by then had been dislodged from the position of big brother. The Congress at the centre had been replaced by the BJP, and it is the BJP that is now viewed by the Sena as the 'New' Delhi that wants to dominate the Marathi Asmita. The NCP and the Congress are in no position to dictate terms to the Shiv Sena, but the BJP can do that.

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Senior Sena leader Eknath Shinde is leading revolt against Uddhav Thackeray.

Those who view the conflict between Sena and the BJP merely as a conflict between two parties are missing the core issue. The Shiv Sena in Maharashtra politics does not want to play second fiddle to any all - India Party which potentially could subsume its Marathi regional identity. Historically, the Marathas never surrendered to Delhi. Both were constantly at war. Chhatrapati Shivaji is the biggest icon of this struggle. Those who felt that with the demise of the Balasaheb Thackeray, the Shiv Sena could be manipulated missed the basic reason for the existence of the Sena. Sena has given voice to voiceless Maharashtrians who felt pushed to the margins by the more educated migrants. About the Sena supporters, Sujata Anandan writes in her biography of Balasaheb, "The bulk of that crowd was drawn from the working classes and from the rank of the unemployed and even uneducated people with idle minds."

Eknath Shinde, the architect for the revolt against Uddhav Thackeray's leadership, was once an auto driver. Many top Sena leaders had very humble beginnings. Can people like Shinde, who is already being viewed as playing Delhi's game, become the symbol of Marathi Asmita? At the outset, it seems very remote that Shinde and his group have a long-term future. For the time being, he may look victorious, but in the long run, his group will always be seen as traitors who backstabbed the Marathi cause.

There is no doubt that Uddhav Thackeray is more soft-spoken and more accommodative than his father. But to assume that this episode will annihilate the Thackeray's legacy would be reckless. Thackeray and 'Matoshree, are not just a name or a house, they symbolise an idea which has always resisted the might of the centre and never surrendered. The lion's den will recover.

(Ashutosh is author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor, satyahindi.com.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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