It was post the Babri demolition and the subsequent communal riots and serial bomb blasts in Mumbai that the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party combine experienced power in the real sense.
And with the Sangh Pariwar milking the communal sentiment across the country to gain political acceptance on Hindutva ideology, the alliance was smooth sailing thereafter.
Barely two years after the serial blasts, Maharashtra’s communal polarisation installed the first-ever saffron government. The Sena had Manohar Joshi, a Brahmin, as the chief minister, and the BJP made a leader belonging to other backward classes (OBC), Gopinath Munde, the deputy chief minister
The saffron alliance won almost all seats in Mumbai and Thane – it lost in Muslim-dominated Umarkhadi and Chinchpokli – but grabbed other minority-dominated places such as Bandra, Kurla and Nehrunagar.
The alliance got a majority of the seats in Marathwada and Vidarbha. In some places, the Sena fielded Muslim candidates and won.
The Sena-BJP combine won close to 30% votes and won 138 seats (Sena 73 out of 169 and BJP 65 out of 116). Yet, they fell seven short of a majority and 45 power-hungry rebel Congressmen supported them. The Congress won 80 seats (out of 286) and a split third front got 23 seats.
Political pundits say the utter failure of the Sharad Pawar-led undivided Congress government contributed significantly to the Sena-BJP’s success.
The Congress government and the party’s rank and file were accused of playing spectator to the rioting, allowing saffron workers to consolidate Hindu votes.
“The Sena and BJP ensured political credibility for the Hindutva. Till then, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its other frontal organisations like Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad never made their political ambitions public, though RSS always talked of a Hindu Rashtra,” said political commentator Surendra Jondhale.
Senior journalist Yuvraj Mohite, who testified against late Sena chief Bal Thackeray before the Shri Krishna Commission which later indicted the leader, said the Sena contributed more to the success.
“Thackeray seized every opportunity. He owned up to the Babri demolition and did not defend his party’s role in rioting. In a way, he created tremendous pressure and decided the target for a majority of Hindus.”
Jondhale and Mohite are unanimous in saying that after the incidents in Mumbai and elsewhere in the state, the Hindu-dominated Maharashtra saw an aggressive political cult emerging with several senior Sena leaders booked for killing, rioting and making provocative speeches.
“And when these leaders were booked, they scored brownie points saying they were being arrested for saving the country and Hindus,” Mohite said.
Mohite recalled how the Sena ensured that Muslims joined its fold in many places. Jondhale said he had seen many Muslims seeking poll tickets from the Sena, especially in Muslim-dominated Marathwada. “It happened because they, too, wanted to thrive on the support of the new political power,” Jondhale said.