For the past three decades, Maharashtra politics revolved around two politicians - Bal Keshav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar.
Thackeray, a cartoonist-turned-politician, built a closely-knit political outfit, which became a force that couldn't be ignored in state politics. He went on
to form the first truly non-Congress government (the first non-Congress government of Progressive Democratic Front had a Congress breakaway faction) and also emerged as a key constituent in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led combination of right wing political parties in India.
Thackeray mattered in state politics because of broadly three reasons. First, he worked out his own brand of politics that appealed to a large section of people. Second, he created a Marathi votebank and managed to keep his core support base intact till the end. And third, in a state where politics was dominated by the Congress backed by the Maratha community and powerful cooperative sugar lobby, Thackeray built a strong political outfit that went on to form the first non-Congress government in the state and till recently had political control of Mumbai.
"Sena is a regional party with huge mass appeal, urban centric approach, which tried to give a sense of identity to its middle-class Maharashtrian supporters," said B Venkatesh Kumar, a political analyst. "Thackeray used his ability to mobilise mass support to occupy the opposition space when it looked like there was no alternative to the Congress."
The Sena never had any well-thought out economic plan. Thackeray made 'justice for sons of the soil' as his party's agenda. And though Sena's leadership largely consisted of upper-caste Maharashtrians, he attracted OBCs as well as non-Buddhist Scheduled Castes to his party.
In Sena's early years, there was unrest among the Maharashtrians in Mumbai and surrounding areas over not getting jobs. Many youngsters were attracted to the Sena because Thackeray, with his excellent oratory skills, spoke what was in their minds. For the middle-class Maharashtrians, he was a saviour of their culture, which they felt was in danger from 'outsiders'.
Thackeray concentrated on the Mumbai-Thane-Konkan belt, consolidated the Marathi votebank and won power in the civic body that runs India's financial capital.
The boost came when he used the opportunity during the saffron wave and hijacked the Sangh Parivar's agenda in Maharashtra. He used a combination of the saffron agenda, campaign against politician-criminal nexus and alleged corruption of Congress to win more seats, and snatched power from the Congress in 1995.
"Sena had some political base, but it wasn't as strong as Congress or BJP. Thackeray cleverly used the issues that would help in elections. He also got benefit of the internal tussle within the Congress," said Dr Ratnakar Mahajan, former executive chairman of state planning board.
For the past two decades, the Sena has been a force that can't be ignored in state politics. Since 1990, it had at least 40 legislators in the state assembly. But now, will it be able to maintain that clout? The first indication will come in 2014 polls.
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