The Shiv Sena, for the first time since Bal Thackeray expressed his desire to go national in the mid-1990s, is sitting pretty in Goa.
For the first time the party, in alliance with Subhash Velingkar‘s Goa Suraksha Manch -- a breakaway group of the RSS -- and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, has found not just natural allies but also the ideal issue just up its street which gives it the best shot at fulfilling Thackeray’s dream.
Thackeray had wanted recognition for the Shiv Sena as a national political party and exclusive right to the electoral symbol of the bow and arrow, which now it has to share with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and a few other parties across India. Constitutionally, though the Sena requires either a 10% representation in the Lok Sabha, which is impossible given there are only 48 seats from Maharashtra and the Sena is yet restricted to the state , or it must have MLAs in at least five state assemblies in the country.
But now the Sena goes to polls in the neighbouring state with a shift in emphasis and a return to its original raison d’etre – the issue of one’s mother tongue. Of course, the Sena’s native tongue is Marathi, but while Goans might speak the language fluently they are fiercely defensive about Konkani.
That, after all, is the reason for the breakup in the RSS where a section believed that undue importance – and government grants – were being given to English medium schools by the BJP government than to those in the Konkani medium.
Vinayak Prabhu, who hails from Goa but is settled in Mumbai, works at Sena shakhas and programmes in Thane, and admires Uddhav Thackeray for pulling off the impossible in terms of his party’s survival since 2014, says “That gave an unfair advantage to the English medium schools because they got double grants – one from the government and the other from the Catholic church.”
But it will be difficult for the BJP to alienate the English medium schools as the Christian population constitutes a whopping 24% of the voters who are already suspicious about the RSS pressure on the BJP to impose a beef ban in the state, something former chief minister and Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar has steadfastly refused to countenance, saying it would be ”dangerous to snatch staple food from the mouths of the people”.
That is also one of the reasons for the split in the RSS. But while the beef ban may be on the back burner, the language issue is at the fore of the campaign by the three allies opposed to the BJP.
Conscious of the fact that Goans had voted in a referendum for independence from Maharashtra and the imposition of their culture and language on Goans, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray is drawing a careful line between Marathi and Konkani, by saying “Marathi is my mother but Konkani is my maushi (aunt or mother’s sister).”
Goa is now important to him not for the language issue but for the immense potential for bargain with the BJP in his home state where the two allies in the Union and state governments are poised to oppose each other bitterly at the civic polls across the state, due three weeks after the Goa elections on February 4.
Of the four seats - Saligao, Thivim, Cuncolim and Marmugao - it will contest in Goa, the Sena might win at the most one ( Marmugao where in the 1990s it had some panchayat seats), though according to observers, it might lose its deposit on all others. But even that single seat is likely to give it tremendous leverage with the BJP, which is faced not just with this tripartite alliance in the saffron space but also one forged by the Congress along with the Goa Forward Party and the NCP in the opposite space. But the Congress alliance comes with its own conflicts and confrontations.
Moreover, the language issue has also alienated the Christian community in the state which, according to senior political analyst Raju Nayak, is siding with the Congress this time round. “I would say the Aam Aadmi Party will lose its deposit in all seats because of this factor. So will the Shiv Sena because they have already messed up their party organisation, sacking a local chief, hiring another at the behest of the MGP. That has caused massive resentment among all.”
But, adds Nayak, Parrikar is an old hand at the game and will still be able to keep the BJP in the lead and effortlessly sew together a post poll coalition with the other grouping.
That will be the Shiv Sena’s moment under the Goa sun in case it wins at least one seat, its next stop then will be another neighbouring state – Gujarat, where Prabhu guesses it is likely to start by targetting Marathi speaking areas like Baroda and later Indore in Madhya Pradesh.
“Uddhav has to look for new strategies to widen his party’s base. Language which unites people across caste and religious lines will be the new signature tune of the Shiv Sena at all the coming elections.”