Shiv SEna new symbols
The rival factions of Shiv Sena had both claimed Trishul and rising sun as election symbols. The EC rejected both. Representational image

Shiv Sena scampers for ammunition as MNS fires Hindutva salvos

Raj Thackeray’s scathing attacks, accusing the Sena of having diluted its Hindutva character, seems to be compelling the party to reaffirm its beliefs

If the pages of history are looked at through a saffron lens, the Hindutva ideology, now seen making massive inroads into several states such as Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, has played a strong role in Maharashtra’s electoral politics as early as the 1960s — courtesy of the Shiv Sena.

A Hindu ultra-nationalist political party founded by cartoonist-turned-politician, the late Balasaheb Thackeray, in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1966, the onset of the Sena’s political trajectory was marked by Thackeray’s anti-migrant sentiments, which focused on the bhoomiputra, or “sons of the soil”, agenda. During its initial years between 1966-1970, sainiks, charged by their mentor’s (Thackeray’s) oratory skills, urged the Marathi manoos to “take back” jobs from various South Indian communities residing in Mumbai; they vandalised several ‘Madrasi’ restaurants and forced other food establishments located in prominent parts of Bombay to hire Maharashtrians to work in them.

During its initial stages, the Shiv Sena primarily attracted unemployed Marathi youth, who seemed to be enchanted by the party’s erstwhile slogan “lungi hatao, pungi bajao” (roughly translates to – show the South Indians their place). The slogan fired them up and propelled thousands of Maharashtrians to gravitate towards the party’s saffron flag, with the symbol of a bow and arrow on it. However, as the sons of the soil agenda began losing steam in the 1970s, Thackeray dumped his anti-South Indian stand and began placing more weight on the Hindutva ideology.

Unabashed Hindutva stance

Since then, the Shiv Sena has been unabashed in its Hindutva stance. In 1970, it received strong criticism for the role it played in the Bhiwandi riots during which at least 250 people, most of them Muslims, were killed. Later, the party opposed the Namantar Andolan — a 16-year-old Dalit and Buddhist campaign to rename Marathawada University to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar University. 

Riots rocked over 1,000 villages in the Marathawada region over a span of 67 days. Brutality took place in the form of burning Dalit homes, forcing them out of villages, and in some cases, even polluting drinking wells. Much of the prevailing tensions in Nanded, Parbhani, and Beed were aggravated by sainiks back then.

Also read: If Lord Ram had not been born, what would BJP have raised, asks Uddhav

The party was also involved in the Hindu-Muslim clashes during the Mumbai riots between December 1992 and January 1993, which was followed by the Mumbai Bombings in March. Many sainiks also participated in kar seva during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. More recently, in 2019, the party also asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ban the burqa.

Alliance with secular parties

Keeping in mind its history of staunch Hindutva pride, it’s uncanny that the Shiv Sena today, with Uddhav Thackeray, son of late Balasaheb Thackeray, at its helm, finds itself taking the lead in a tripartite coalition with two secular parties i.e., the NCP and the Congress, forming the Maha Vikas Aghadi that governs the state of Maharashtra.

Over the past fortnight, the Sena has found itself on the receiving end of a string of accusations from its breakaway faction, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), led by Uddhav’s estranged cousin Raj Thackeray. Raj has issued an ultimatum to the coalition to stop mosques from playing the azaan on loudspeakers from May 3, threatening that if his demand is not met, his cadre would play the Hanuman Chalisa at even louder volumes on loudspeakers outside mosques as a sign of protest.

During his Gudi Padwa speech at Shivaji Park, the MNS chief targeted the Sena, accusing it of diluting its Hindutva character and of straying from the path set out by the late Balasaheb Thackeray.

Butterfly effect

Raj’s Gudi Padwa speech has set into motion a butterfly effect in Maharashtra. His rebranded Hindutva avatar received a pat on the back from several BJP leaders, and the Hanuman Chalisa-Azaan row seems to have brought the MNS back into the folds of political relevancy.

Initially, the Sena, along with its coalition partners, dismissed Raj’s demands, speeches, and jibes, but with the MNS chief only upping the pressure in more recent days at his sabhas, an uneasy Sena seems to have been pushed into a reactive mode.

On the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti last Saturday, the party organised a maha aarti at Dadar and Girgaon in Mumbai; Aaditya Thackeray, the Sena’s de facto number two, performed the maha aarti at the latter location. In a show of strength, many Sena leaders also attended the programme at the Dadar Hanuman Temple, which was built by Prabhodhankar Thackeray almost 50 years ago — a not-so-subtle message to those pointing fingers at it that the party had inherited the spirit of both Prabhodhankar and Balasaheb Thackeray.

Also read: Remove loudspeakers in mosques demands Raj Thackeray; ‘scripted by BJP’, retorts Raut

The Shiv Sena has always maintained that it stands by its own brand of Hindutva. But it is now being accused of abandoning its beliefs. What is even more surprising is that the mighty Sena seems to be buckling under, and giving in to, pressure from the MNS, while trying to maintain its identity of being a Hindu nationalist party.

On Monday, Maharashtra’s Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil announced that the use of loudspeakers at religious sites in the state would be allowed only with prior permission. At the same time, Nashik Police Commissioner Deepak Pandey directed all religious places in his jurisdiction to seek permission for the use of loudspeakers by May 3.

No pressure, says Sena

When asked if the Sena has been compelled into reverting back to its original Hindutva mode, party spokesperson Manisha Kayande told The Federal: “We want to expose their (MNS) pseudo-Hinduism and hence even we need to react to them. We have never shied away from our position or our thoughts on Hindutva but if somebody is giving a false impression of what Hindutva is…then the Sena needs to show how Hindutvawadi we are.”

“What the BJP cannot speak, it is making Raj Thackeray speak,” she said. “We want to expose their neo-Hinduism and reiterate our stand which is why we are reacting to these things. What Raj Thackeray is doing is a mockery. Where are they getting all the funding for their sabhas? They don’t have any municipal corporations under their control and they only have just one MLA in all of Maharashtra…the BJP is funding them.”

“There is no pressure on Sena because we aren’t only chanting Hanuman Chalisa — we are doing all developmental works along with it,” she said.

Referring to the Supreme Court’s directives on noise pollution between 10 pm and 6 am, Kayande said: “The law was already there but maybe people had forgotten about it. We are reminding people that the provisions already existed.”

“Our Hindutva agenda has always been there,” Shiv Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire told The Federal. “We are not worried or under pressure.”

Despite the denial, it is clear that actions speak louder than words — and the more Shiv Sena tries to assert its Hindutva dominance, the more it looks as though it is submitting to the MNS’ demands and yielding political ground to it. Referring to the Sena’s maha aartis and plans to visit Ayodhya, MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande told The Federal: “They are taking inspiration from us and we welcome their move.”

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