In Maharashtra, the political dilemma of Shiv Sena: analysis
When Shiv Sena broke ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form the government in Maharashtra with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (PCN), it was clear that this would be an awkward alliance. The political worldview of the Seine revolved around Hindutva, placing it at odds with the “secular” political agenda of Congress and the PCN.
Three months later, this tension is now open, with its clearest manifestation in the different positions of the coalition partners in the cases of Bhima-Koregaon and Elgar Parishad. It has its roots in the Prime Minister and Chief of the Seine, Uddhav Thackeray, giving his consent to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate the Elgar Parishad case. The PCN, which has the department of origin, is upset about the decision, and Congress has also taken note of the dissent.
But what is driving this difference in approach? The answer lies in the alleged participation of marginal Hindutva groups in the violence of Bhima-Koregaon.
On December 31, 2017, allegedly inflammatory speeches were given at Elgar Parishad in Shaniwarwada in Pune. The conclave commemorated the battle of Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 1818, where a small detachment of the British army, composed largely of Dalit, contained a force majeure of the Brahmin Peshwas. A day after Parishad, there was violence against the Dalits, who had packed the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial in Lakhs to pay their respects.
Pune police reserved and arrested leftist and civil society activists, accused of waging war against the state and being involved in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This provoked against accusations. Prakash Ambedkar, the head of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and the NCP leaders, blamed the leaders of the Hindutva, Milind Ekbote and Sambhajirao Bhide “Guruji” groups for the violence of Bhima-Koregaon.
Ekbote, who runs Samasta Hindu Aghadi, comes from a family affiliated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He also disputed the elections to the 2014 Pune assembly as a candidate for Sena. Ekbote was arrested for the violence and then released on bail.
However, it is Bhide and his group, Shivprathisthan Hindustan, who present a bigger situation for the Seine. As party leaders acknowledge privately, it is not possible for them to take a stand against Bhide or any Hindu activist, as it will be seen as a dilution of the Seine’s commitment to Hindutva. This despite the pressure of the NCP, which wishes to expand its base among the Buddhist Dalits.
Shivaprathisthan, which has a solid base in parts of western Maharashtra, is among the most influential marginal Hindu groups in the state. The popularity and reach of the group have been built around the personality of former RSS activist, Bhide “Guruji”, whose austere lifestyle has touched an emotional fiber in a section of young Hindu. Bhide is also known for being close to the main leaders of BJP. Shivaprathisthan employs the iconography of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who remains a powerful political symbol in the state. Aided by the use of social networks, this has increased the ranks of “Dharkaris” (as the members of Shivaprathisthan are called).
Congress and PCN leaders claim that while Left and Dalit activists were arrested for their alleged role in the Elgar Parishad case, Bhide has been treated with leniency. They also complain that Sena is following the line of the BJP on matters such as the Elgar Parishad and Bhima-Koregaon cases.
Although the Seine was born in 1966 as a nativist, children of the soil party, who claimed to defend the cause of the Maharashtrians in Mumbai, took a formal turn towards Hindutva in the 1980s. Like most of his political positions, this was born more of political convenience than any ideological conviction. Hindutva allowed the Seine to forge an alliance with the BJP in 1989. The late Bal Thackeray, founder and supreme leader of the Seine until his death in 2012, even became the face of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in Maharashtra, surpassing the BJP and Sangh Parivar. The Seine, with its broad social base and militant cadre, also defended the cause of Hindutva more virulently than the BJP.
Sena leaders admit that a chopped BJP can mobilize marginal groups to accumulate causes linked to Hindutva to catch Sena. This may include opposition to the veneration of General Adilshahi’s grave, Afzal Khan, who was killed by Shivaji Maharaj in the Battle of Pratapgad, cow protection and beef surveillance.
If it is seen that the Seine is opposed to these, it runs the risk of alienating the Hindutva vote; If you constantly back them up, the patience of your allies may run out. There is also an ideological link with the BJP, which the Seine does not want to cut completely due to the fragility of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. The Seine also has to deal with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Uddhav’s separated cousin, Raj Thackeray, who has resorted to Hindu politics.
This explains why, despite its alliance with the “secular” Congress and the PCN, the Seine is having difficulty reconciling the compulsions of the present with its Hindutva past. Issues such as the action against Bhide or the controversial Sanatan Sanstha will be part of the minefield that the Seine will have to negotiate. The future of the government, the party and, in fact, the politics of Maharashtra will depend on the skill with which it achieves this balancing act.
Dhaval Kulkarni is a journalist and author of The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of their Senas
The opinions expressed are personal.