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Sena vs Sena

The Shiv Sena's poor performance in strongholds like Mumbai and Thane in the recent Lok Sabha elections forced it to accuse the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of splitting the "Marathi" vote.

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Sena vs Sena 8,68,000 votes in Mumbai alone as against 15,72,000 of the Congress-NCP and 11,48,000 of the Sena-BJP; its combined
Vaibhav Purandare tally in Mumbai and Thane was 21% of the total votes polled, as against 29% for the

The Shiv Sena’s poor performance in strongholds like Mumbai and Thane in the recent Lok Sabha elections forced it to accuse the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of splitting the “Marathi” vote.

Vaibhav Purandare (vaibhav.purandare@ gmail.com) is a journalist with the Hindustan Times, Mumbai and author of the The Sena Story, a history of the Shiv Sena.

S
oon after its dismal performance in its former strongholds of Mumbai and Thane in the Lok Sabha polls, the Shiv Sena undertook a curious e xercise. It added votes obtained by Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to its own tally in every constituency to claim that all six Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates in India’s financial capital would have won if the MNS had not split votes.

While there was a split, and while it did hurt the Sena-BJP, the extent of this split is certainly not what the Sena and BJP are making it out to be. A majority of votes obtained by the MNS were anti-Shiv Sena and anti-BJP, just as they were anti-Congress and anti-Nationalist Congress Party (ncp) (in some cases, arguably more against the saffron combine than against the secular one). A more disturbing reality is staring the Shiv Sena in the face: its core constituency – the Maharashtrians in Mumbai who believe in the sons-of-the-soil agenda – is shifting towards the MNS, and was responsible for rejecting the Sena-BJP candidates.

The MNS put up candidates in just 12 of the state’s 48 constituencies – nine in Mumbai-Thane and one each in Pune, Nashik and Aurangabad respectively – and polled over one lakh votes in each except one. In south Mumbai, where the 26/11 terrorist attack unfolded, it emerged as number two, and in most other seats, a close number three, bagging a total of

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Sena-BJP. Cause enough for concern for all the major parties in the state.

Rise and Decline

The Shiv Sena came to power in the state in 1995 in alliance with the BJP as the s affron grouping was seen as a strong alternative to the Congress, then reeling under allegations of corruption and criminalisation of politics and the impact of the stock market scam, the serial bombings in M umbai after the 1992-93 communal r iots, the Enron muddle and unrest in r ural a reas. Most of the Shiv Sena’s seats came from the Mumbai-Thane region and the Konkan coastal belt, which has had deeprooted socio-economic links with the megalopolis ever since workers from there moved to Mumbai in large numbers t owards the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the textile mills.

The Sena’s less-than-desirable performance in the Mumbai and Thane civic corporations despite regular stints in power notwithstanding, its core voters continued to place their hopes in its agenda. The demand for “jobs” was not only intact but mounting: levels of in-migration were still healthy, and the service sector had grown. Its voter base was promised creation of employment for “locals”, protection of the Marathi language and promotion of M arathi culture.

The party’s record in power (1995 to 1999) turned out to be poor; it was during this period that Maharashtra began to slip from its number one slot nationally (the

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slide has since continued under the Congress-NCP regime). The saffron outfit did not deliver on most counts: the muchtouted free housing scheme for 40 lakh slum-dwellers came a cropper, the zunkabhakar scheme to create outlets that would provide (Maharashtrian) food at affordable rates to the poor and the lower middle classes failed, and on the development front, there was practically nothing to show except 55 flyovers in Mumbai and the Mumbai-Pune Expressway (perceived not as the Shiv Sena’s achievement but that of the BJP leader and then PWD m inister, Nitin Gadkari).

Again, “preferential treatment for l ocals” remained on paper, as did job creation for the bhoomi-putra (son of the soil). Mill land gave way to high-rise structures, and mill workers’ families, mostly Maharashtrian, had to shift from central Mumbai (Parel, Lower Parel and Lalbaug) to the distant suburbs as the builders’ l obby started e stablishing its grip over the city. The Enron muddle grew worse, and voices alleging graft grew louder as the lifestyles of Shiv Sena legislators and ministers were seen to change overnight from plain to flashy and ostentatious. Equally significant was the fact that Gujaratis and Marwaris were no longer the only real estate developers in the city; prominent Shiv Sena leaders had stepped in with their entrepreneurial a cumen, while the ordinary Marathi m anoos (man) was being displaced.

The Sena-BJP lost power in 1999 even though the Congress and the NCP, formed in the same year by Sharad Pawar, fought the assembly elections separately. The Shiv Sena was in total disarray after the defeat and tried to reclaim the Marathi agenda in the year 2000 by launching a campaign for Marathi signboards for shops and establishments. The agitation did not get much of a response from the citizenry and the issue was shelved as quickly as it was raised. The party witnessed an open tussle b etween Thackeray’s son Uddhav and nephew Raj for control; Uddhav won when he was anointed Shiv Sena’s executive president in 2003. He tried to exploit the new demo graphic variables in Mumbai. While the Sena had stopped targeting south Indians, and there have been no quarrels with Gujaratis and other Hindu communities ever since it embraced Hindutva in the mid-1980s, it made no attempt to woo north Indians.

Uddhav tried to bring these migrants into the Sena fold and projected the party as “inclusive” by floating concepts like “Mee Mumbaikar” and organising north Indian festivals at the party headquarters, the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar. This a lienated the party’s core voters further and did not bring in new ones, as the new migrants looked at the Shiv Sena with distrust. The Shiv Sena’s positioning on “Maharashtrianism” is a confused one, and it has ceded ground on the issue fast.

Raj Thackeray stepped into the vacant political space. He hijacked the Marathi agenda from the Shiv Sena in 2007, after realising that declarations of making his 2006-born MNS an inclusive party gave him no political leverage whatsoever.

The distancing of the Sena voter from the party has been significant. If I were to make a generous estimate of the “sure” Shiv Sena votes that went across, it would be not more than 30%, or 35%.

This does mean that quite a few Shiv Sena-BJP candidates would have won if the MNS had not played spoiler, but it belies the exaggerated claims that most, or all MNS votes belonged to the s affron alliance.

The claim becomes even more exaggerated when one considers the fact that many Shiv Sena-BJP voters did not vote for MNS only because of doubts regarding the winnability of its candidates. Many voters in Mumbai told me after the results were announced that, had they known it would be such a close contender in most constituencies, they would have gone with the MNS.

The profile of the MNS voter is not restricted to the disillusioned Sena sympathiser, though. Young Maharashtrians from those well-placed in the business world and highly-skilled professionals to those looking for clerical jobs and semiskilled workers – regardless of their family’s voting background – have turned to it. Women, who have not always appreciated the Shiv Sena’s talk and tactics, have voted for it in good numbers.

What explains the non-Shiv Sena votes that went to it and the openness, at least at the moment, of still others towards the MNS?

The Shiv Sena and the BJP have been ineffectual as the principal opposition in the state and have failed to carry out even a single effective campaign against a non-performing state government. The state has a deficit of over Rs 1.5 lakh crore, there are 16 hours of power cuts daily in many areas and the alarming number of farmer suicides is a disturbing phenomenon. The Shiv Sena’s weak leadership and organisational weaknesses, and the BJP’s poorly-kept secret – the conflict b etween the two state leaders Gopinath

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Munde and Nitin Gadkari – have contributed in part to this failure.

The Shiv Sena was seen (and took pride in being seen) as being outside the political establishment while still being a part of it. It was known to confiscate essentials from hoarders in case of artificially c reated shortages and sell these to people at concessional rates at its shakhas, or to thrash a ward officer who repeatedly turned a blind eye to people’s complaints about inadequate water supply. The s tated and unstated hope of many of Mumbai’s voters – in this case, not just Marathi-speaking – is that the MNS would take up this role as the Shiv Sena is now seen as part of the establishment. This is yet a nother indicator of how a beleaguered c itizenry is willing to accept such instant solutions, regardless of the means used to achieve the ends.

Is the Shiv Sena’s argument that the MNS divided “Marathi” votes true? The answer is no, because Maharashtrians have never voted en bloc, whether in Mumbai or elsewhere.

The Congress has played a strong role in the state as Mumbai, Pune, Ahmed nagar and so many other areas were key centres of political action during the freedom movement. The party’s mass base has been strong here, with its leaders – from the state’s first chief minister Y B Chavan to the current one, Ashok Chavan – carrying credibility both in urban and rural a reas. The state has stood by the Congress in some of the party’s toughest times. Even in 1995, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance did not reach the majority mark on its own; it had to take the help of 10 independents, m ostly rebel Congressmen, to form the government. The recent Lok Sabha election r esults show that in Mumbai, the Congress has retained its traditional Maharashtrian mass base and, because it is seen as an inclusive outfit, has obviously won the confidence of voters belonging to all communities. North Indian voters – systematically wooed by the party – have embraced it to try and ward off the MNS threat, and Muslims and the poor and backward classes who had gone away to the SP or BSP have returned to it, as in many other states.

Unlike the BJP, the Congress has also never been seen as a party opposed to regional aspirations but one that supports them, quietly and occasionally openly, while at the same time retaining its s ecular agenda. The Shiv Sena grew in the 1960s with the active support of then chief minister V P Naik (of the Congress); another Congress leader, Vasant Sathe, once made a public statement (he was not berated by the party leadership) that Maharashtrians lived with respect in Mumbai only because of the Shiv Sena.

The NCP too tried to play up the Maharashtrian issue this time but failed because it was seen as nothing but a ruse for Sharad Pawar’s claim to the prime ministerial post. Pawar, who attracted huge numbers of rural youth in the state for years, is t oday perceived very differently by the young generation in Maharashtra, his politics are seen as inscrutable and his moves read as being meant merely for the chessboard. As union agriculture minister, P awar was seen as being insensitive to the issue of farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha.

MNS vs Shiv Sena on the Streets?

Will there be clashes between the MNS and the Shiv Sena on the streets of Mumbai? Such clashes would help the older Sena discredit the new one, as both the Marathi and non-Marathi speaking people would deeply resent disruption of peace and normalcy and would not want to be caught in the crossfire. The Marathi community, in fact, could be caught in a d ilemma should the two Senas end up battling each other on the streets. In any case, the Shiv Sena has been trying to induce a sense of guilt in its alienated voters: both Bal Thackeray and son Uddhav have pointed fingers accusingly at the Marathi manoos, saying he/she alone should e xplain why the Sena lost.

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