Uddhav's foresight could be the game-changer
Despite criticism, Shiv Sena stood its ground and with precision-perfect planning catapulted itself into national relevance
Not many took it seriously when Shiv Sena secretary Milind Narvekar, who also doubles up as party president Uddhav Thackeray's personal secretary, put up banners in July this year, informing Mumbai that Thackeray would travel to Ayodhya. The banners displayed at strategic locations, such as Dadar's Sena Bhavan, said the Ayodhya tour was an ambitious move in national politics and the impact of it would be like 'Sau sunar ki, ek lohar ki' (one hammer punch by the blacksmith is heavier than a hundred by the goldsmith).
Four months later, Thackeray's Ayodhya tour has turned out to be a political game-changer. Firstly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) realised the Sena's foresight. The Sangh chief Dr Mohan Bhagwat took a decisive position on the Ram Temple issue in his Dussehra rally speech in Nagpur. It happened hours before Thackeray told sainiks the dates of his Ayodhya visit at Shivaji Park's annual Dussehra rally. Lapping up the Sena idea, the RSS then got the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and other members of the Hindutva brigade to organise a massive Dharm Sabha in Ayodhya and rallies in several cities on November 25 to put pressure on the BJP government to expedite building of the Ram Temple. The bigger show was expected to overcast the Sena's smaller event in Ayodhya, but it didn't.
While the frenemy planned a counter, the Sena stood its ground and faced criticism from all quarters. A lot of thinking, planning and perfect execution made its event national news ahead of the VHP-RSS sabha that was attended by several lakh activists. With a first-of-its-kind achievement outside Maharashtra, the Sena managed to blur its image of being a regional party. The Ram Bhakts from across the country contributed to Sena's attempt of snatching 'Brand Ram' away from the BJP. Remember how the BJP had hijacked 'Brand Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj' from the Sena while seeking votes in the 2014 elections? Sena is enjoying a moment of sweet revenge.
Anatomy of the tour
It took four months for the Sena frontline to execute the plan. The party's vocal MP and editor of the Sena mouthpiece Saamna, Sanjay Raut led from the front. He visited Ayodhya 12 times in four months. Narvekar remained an integral part of the planning team which later expanded by having leaders like Eknath Shinde and Anil Parab on board. District units were given specific tasks. For example, the Nashik unit organised one of the finest ever (local say so) Sarayu Aartis. Sena units in UP, and Mumbaikars who have connect with this part of North India, were encouraged to take the event to the next level.
In total control, the UP government could have stalled Thackeray's plan. In fact, the local BJP-VHP did try blocks, but a diplomatic approach by Raut and his team saw the two-day programme through. Sena maintained that it would not break law and order and seek permissions, if needed. Raut acknowledged the support given by Adityanath, the UP administration and police force. In the end, Raut and Narvekar were happy that their leader returned home happy, content and even more ambitious.
Takeaway for Sena
One thing that we noticed in Ayodhya was the limelight Thackeray and his Sena hogged. Thackeray senior hadn't ventured outside Maharashtra even once to seek support, but had won the hearts of Hindus by claiming responsibility of the demolition at Babri on December 6, 1992. No wonder, then, locals and visiting devotees wanted to see Uddhav and his family, and sought to know more about the Sena. The refrain that Sena was a north Indian bashing force remained, but the party somehow made the people ignore the past and was fairly successful in selling its sincerity and commitment to the Ram Temple even as the BJP is accused of denying devotees their wish.
"We don't care whatever the Shiv Sena does in Mumbai but we appreciate them for coming here to fight for the mandir," said Raghavendra Tiwari, 36, who wants the controversy to end at the earliest. "We liked that the Sena followed the law. We appreciate them because we all want the mandir as well peace, so that the town prospers as a tourist destination," he said.
The traction Thackeray and Sena have received in the national and international media has overwhelmed the party, which till now got bad press over its 'sons of the soil' agenda.
A major takeaway is the confidence and belief the tour has given to the Sena's rank and file ahead of the polls. There was some reluctance and friction within the party regarding the conduct of the tour. Things moved fast and smoothly once the bad phase ended by mutual understanding.
As far as Hindutva is concerned, the Ayodhya tour proved that Sena stands on the same pedestal as the RSS-VHP-BJP combine. The ruling dispensation may not afford to ignore, ill-treat and discredit Sena any longer. Seems Team Uddhav Thackeray has won this round of the game.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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