The Shiv Sena never ceases to amaze. In the same week as it was rooting for Marathi in Goa and butting into an internecine war between the BJP and the RSS, in Mumbai it was, for the first time in its half century of existence, publishing posters in Gujarati. Both events, though, are aimed at denting the BJP--the Sena has announced its intention to contest elections in neighbouring Goa early next year. Around the same time it will be locked in a fight for survival against the BJP which seems determined to go to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation polls alone, without an alliance with the Shiv Sena.
Late last week, Goa witnessed a rupture between the BJP and the RSS when the latter dismissed Subhash Velingkar, a long-serving sanghchalak in Goa, from his position. Velingkar promptly accused former Goa chief minister and current Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar of manipulating his exit. He also labelled Parrikar a cheat. While in opposition in Goa, Parrikar had promised to withdraw grants to English medium schools that are largely run by the Catholic church. He has, however, not acted upon that promise nor is he likely to. Catholics influence at least 12 of the 40 assembly constituencies in Goa and withdrawing grants to their schools could affect the BJP’s chances in the 2017 polls.
The RSS, however, has always rooted for local languages over English, so it was surprising that it chose to discipline Velingkar who is fiercely supporting Marathi and Konkani. But according to senior political analyst Raju Nayak, “Parrikar was and continues to be the architect of a BJP victory in Goa and it was more prudent for the RSS to support him at this juncture, given that the Aam Aadmi Party is all set to skewer (sic) the pitch for the BJP in Goa at the next elections. Upsetting the Catholic community at this juncture thus would have served no purpose.”
The Shiv Sena, though, has blindly jumped into the fray with little understanding of the issue peculiar to Goa except to instinctively root for Marathi over English. However, people in Goa might not appreciate the Sena’s interference. There is a bitter war between the RSS ideologues and the more pragmatic politicians in the BJP over the medium of instruction in schools, but Goans, according to Frederick Noronha, a writer on cultural and political issues, are equally divided over Konkani and Marathi. In 1967, during a referendum, labelled as an “opinion poll”--since India has no constitutional provision for referendums--Goans chose not to merge with Maharashtra and retained their independent identity. Konkani is a significant part of that identity and so far the Shiv Sena has shown little awareness about the Goan approach to their multiple languages: in Maharashtra they have known only Marathi, all other spoken languages being alien to the state (which is not so with Goa’s three languages).
As Nayak points out, all political parties in Goa, including the Congress and the BJP, have similar positions on the state’s three languages and cannot afford to alienate the English speakers. As Noronha says, “No one can risk withdrawing grants to English medium schools because the English speakers are nearly 24% of the population and that is a big chunk to alienate politically.”
The Shiv Sena has been inimical to English: a whole generation of Sena supporters in Maharashtra grew up on Marathi and found themselves barred from global opportunities because they didn’t know English. Now, a third generation of Shiv Sainiks is being subtly encouraged in the home state to switch to English medium schools so that they are not left behind others. The Sena has thus been exhibiting less and less obstinacy about its previous hard position on Marathi as is obvious from the fact that the third generation of Thackerays have all obtained their education from premier English medium schools. That is a cue taken by the children of lesser leaders in the Shiv Sena leading to an overall softening of the party’s stridency on Marathi.
Now for the first time the party has startled even its own old-timers by attempting to woo the large section of Gujarati voters--considered hard core supporters of the BJP – in their own language. So its decision to support Velingkar against Parrikar over Marathi in Goa is little more than political expediency wherein, in recent days, the Sena loses no opportunity to embarrass the BJP on various issues. However, the party might be out of its depth on this one if all that it has in mind is to score some brownie points against the BJP.