In a country where xenophobia rages and political sops like concessions and reservations have always been easy substitutes for inclusive growth, the meteoric rise of the Shiv Sena came as no surprise.
Shiv Sena, when it was born in 1966, was seen as the need of the hour, giving a voice to the working class Marathis. Today, all the vaunted roles that the Sena once played in the state have become redundant.
The days of trade unionism are long past, dying out with the textile mills and speedily replaced by privatisation. Left without a cause, Shiv Sena shifted its gaze to the needs of the ‘sons-of-the-soil’ assuring them that they deserved preferential treatment in the sphere of jobs.
Even on this front, Sena’s intervention is no longer an absolute necessity, thanks to privatisation, computerisation and recruitment through exams. In the 80s, Shiv Sena’s focus shifted to Hindutva, thanks to the upsurge in militant activities in Kashmir, Congress’ bid to strengthen its vote bank of minorities, and the influx of Bangladeshis.
Under the leadership of its founder chief, the late Bal Thackeray, Sena reaped rich dividends, with the party tally rising to 52 in the state assembly elections held in 1990, straight from just one in 1985. By this time, the BJP had joined forces with the party.
In 1993, the atmosphere of resentment towards the Congress after the demolition of the Babri Masjid veered the electorate towards the Sena-BJP alliance, which assumed the seat of power in the state, with Manohar Joshi, a Shiv Sainik, being appointed the chief minister.
This moment of triumph, ironically, was also the beginning of the party’s decline. Shiv Sena-BJP faced defeat in the state assembly elections of 1999. The lure of Hindutva left voters unmoved in subsequent elections held in 2004 and 2009. The rise of MNS further weakened the party something that became evident in the 2009 state assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
Now, the Sena seems struggling in its search for an agenda and an ideology that resonates with the people and strengthens its political base once again. Despite its lack lustre performance in the state legislature as an Opposition, or as the ruling party in the Brihammumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), it enjoyed a windfall of 18 seats in the Lok Sabha elections this year but only because of Narendra Modi.
The prevailing atmosphere of resentment towards the ruling Congress-NCP government gives BJP the upper hand to demand more seats in the approaching elections. It will also afford the BJP a chance to claim the CM’s post, if they get a favourable verdict in the assembly elections.
Small wonder then that the Sena is making desperate, albeit failed attempts to find itself a cause that will resonate with the people. Party chief Uddhav Thackeray is busy addressing rallies in town centres something that he would earlier shy away from. He has also announced his party’s mission to vie for 150 seats, so that it retains its supremacy.
In this background of listlessness and lost causes, the nauseating behaviour of Shiv Sena MPs at Maharashtra Sadan emerges as yet another desperate attempt at asserting its supremacy.
It was not just the bad food in the canteen that they were protesting, but the decision to allot a few suites to MPs from Uttar Pradesh, including Dr Satyapal Singh, the ex-city police chief who resigned from service to contest Lok Sabha and won from Baghpat.
Sena MPs were angry that their party men were allocated common suites, while Dr Singh enjoyed a VIP suite. A few other MPs from Uttar Pradesh had also been put up at Maharashtra Sadan. If Sena was indeed upset about this, it could have asked Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to explain the move.
It is believed that Chavan extended this courtesy following a request from Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav. Shiv Sena needs to reboot and refresh its outdated idioms to appeal to a globalised community that has left its saffron trappings far behind.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day