What's the secret of Uddhav's calmness? It's the Shiv Sena cadres
It is being said in Maharashtra political circles that a few MLAs in Shinde’s camp will change their mind once they land in Mumbai, where the Sena cadre is the strongest
The Shiv Sena is facing one of its worst crises after the death of its supremo, Balasaheb Thackray, in 2012. Eknath Shinde’s rebellion and his flight to first Surat and then Guwahati with his group of supporting MLAs has not only put the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government in trouble, but has also raised questions over who is the ‘real’ leader of the Shiv Sena.
But Chief Minister and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, in the midst of all this chaos, gave a measured address through Facebook Live. How is he so calm? It’s because the Shiv Sena is a cadre-based party and Uddhav’s hold on the cadre is strong.
Uddhav is not the same as his father. Balasaheb’s politics was based on emotions. Uddhav is shrewd and won major battles within the party before gaining control. After his appointment as working president of the party in 2003, he built and strengthened the party cadre. Uddhav did not rely much on MLAs and MPs, but rather on the cadre.
The Shiv Sena has an organised party cadre in every district. Mumbai is considered the party’s bastion where even auto-rickshaw drivers and the public use the Sena’s shakhas as a reference for addresses.
Uddhav had changed the political paradigm in Maharashtra in 2019 when he joined hands with erstwhile political rivals Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) after the Assembly elections. This had kept the BJP away from power in the state.
The Thackeray scion learnt from past rebellions in the Sena and did not allow any leader to grow beyond his or her constituency. He kept control over his MLAs through district chiefs.
Further, Uddhav had identified the increasing power of the BJP in the state after the 2017 Mumbai Municipal Corporation’s elections and saw the party as a direct threat to his own political existence. He waited for the right time to break ties with the BJP and did so after the 2019 elections.
A popular chief minister
Despite the constant pinpricks originating from the BJP, the MVA government thrived for two-and-a-half-years. During the COVID pandemic, Uddhav emerged as a popular CM who handled the crisis with deftness. The Opposition in the state left no stone unturned to destabilise the government. Central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the premises of and questioned many MVA leaders over alleged cases of money laundering, disproportionate assets and corruption.
It was the cumulative effect of these agency inquiries that saw cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha and later in the Legislative Council elections, which then was followed by the rebellion of the Sena’s cabinet minister and leader of the party in the Legislative Assembly, Eknath Shinde.
The rebels have been urging Uddhav to break ties with the NCP and the Congress. But, Uddhav, through his Facebook Live, ruled this out while agreeing to leave the CM post if any Shiv Sainik wanted to become the chief minister of Maharashtra. This move pushed rebels into a corner and coloured them as the BJP’s puppets – in fact, Shinde claimed that he had the support of ‘one national party’ before quickly retracting it.
Lesson from past dissensions
The Sena first split in 1991 when firebrand leader Chagan Bhujbal left it over the issue of Hindutva and joined the Congress with 10 MLAs. Except him, all his supporters lost the subsequent elections.
The Sena faced another setback when Raj Thackeray left in 2005. All his supporters too lost to Sena candidates in the following elections. When the Sena was trying to overcome losses incurred by Raj’s exit, another blow was dealt by former chief minister Narayan Rane. He left the party with 10 MLAs. However, only a few survived and others became irrelevant in the electoral game.
Behind all these results is the fact that the Sena has a strong cadre base. The leadership changes posts and responsibilities regularly. Political observer and practising lawyer in Mumbai, Harshal Lohakare, says, “CM Uddhav Thackeray seemed relaxed and calm while addressing the public through Facebook Live. The Shiv Sena leadership has no face other than Balasaheb and Uddhav. The party is based on its principle of 80 per cent social work and 20 per cent politics. Sena workers are very much active during any incident.”
The Sena’s leadership has developed from such faceless people. And it is on the support of these faceless Shiv Sainiks that Uddhav is banking upon. These workers, who came out on the streets in hordes when Uddhav left the CM’s official residence Varsha to go back to his own residence Matoshree, are the support base of Uddhav and it is the strongest in Mumbai.
And it is in Mumbai that the final battle between Uddhav and Shinde will be fought. After all, in the end, Shinde and his group will have to leave Guwahati and come to Mumbai for the showdown in the Assembly.
The patriarch of Maharashtra politics, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, in very simple language, gave a very harsh message to Sena rebels regarding the floor test. He put his entire political weight behind Uddhav and the two have decided to wait and watch until further developments.
It is being said in the Marathi media that there are a few MLAs in Shinde’s camp who will change their mind once they land in Mumbai. Some political commentators also believe that the picture will be different when the government goes for a floor test. As days pass without much action, they feel, rebels will be politically starved and new equations will be seen in Maharashtra.