The Shiv Sena is experiencing much angst at the Union government’s demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. When Narendra Modi told a delegation of the party’s MPs that Bal Thackeray would have supported the policy and they were going against his spirit, it was contrary to what most Shiv Sainiks in Maharashtra believe.
These sainiks have been criticising their party president Uddhav Thackeray from Day 1 for not being more aggressive in his opposition to the demonetisation drive and it has prompted him to take the unusual step of joining hands with leaders on the opposite side of the spectrum like Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal to oppose the policy. One Shiv Sainik said on the condition of anonymity, “Had it been Balasaheb, he would have kicked up a big row and given an ultimatum to the government--withdraw the policy which is affecting the poor or face the consequences. But Uddhav does not have it in him to be the tiger that Balasaheb was.”
That biting criticism and Uddhav’s flip-flop on the issue should, however, be seen in the context of the kind of party that the Shiv Sena is and has been since its inception. Bal Thackeray was wont to proudly proclaim that he just had to address a campaign rally and not lift a single finger to make it a success, that was the job of his workers who gathered both supporters and contributions at the grassroots. The cash crunch following the demonetisation now dries up those contributions in this election season with major civic bodies going to the polls between now and February and puts them in a bind.
Perhaps it may not have mattered so much had so many satraps have not exited the party over the years for they could have been depended upon to work their way around and be resourceful enough to deliver their regions to the party. For example, Narayan Rane was the king of the Konkan while he was with the Shiv Sena and trusted with winning the maximum number of seats for the party, election after election. There has been no one to quite take his place ever since he quit to join the Congress. Similar was the case with Ganesh Naik who joined the NCP and took the whole of Navi Mumbai along with him in the process. Thane was equally beholden to the late Anand Dighe and when he died – in hospital – after an accident some years ago, not even Bal Thackeray could prevent his angry supporters from ransacking that hospital.
Nevertheless, all such “satraps” however indispensable they may have been, ruled in the name of Bal Thackeray and trusted him to roar in their support and persuade reigning governments to look the other way in case of missteps on their part. Much of Bal Thackeray’s aura arose from the fact that many a time he had persuaded mighty Congress governments led by powerful chief ministers to do his bidding.
Uddhav, however, does not have the mettle to influence the BJP in a similar fashion and the stature to dictate terms to Narendra Modi as Thackeray did with Atal Bihari Vajpayee on more than one occasion. But, almost on the cusp of civic elections across the state for which his supporters have been gathering funds, he must fight for his workers every inch of the way. So, he seems to be employing every trick in his book in the hope the government will overturn the decision.
While he was not persuaded by such high-ups as Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naid who called him up in the past week to express displeasure at his teaming up with Mamata and Kejriwal, he seemed to have softened his stand after Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari called on him. Though his media adviser Harshal Pradhan downplayed that meeting saying it was only to invite the Thackerays to his daughter’s wedding in Nagpur on December 4. “I am not against the demonetisation, per se,’’ Uddhav said later. “But I will continue to insist that it is hurting the common man.’’
He is, of course, couching his objections in terms of concern for the poor. But it is his not-so-poor workers and the elections round the corner that worries the Sena leader the most. He may just have received a fillip with the Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association recently calling upon him to help bail them out of a situation where they have suffered 70% loss of business in the last fortnight.
The trading community is the BJP’s backbone and Uddhav told them, “Not just your generation but the future generation will also suffer because of this move. Do not sit back and just shed tears. Be prepared to fight this autocratic decision ... which should have been taken by taking (you) who voted for BJP into confidence.’’
That seemed suspiciously like provoking them into battle with the government and skimming off the BJP vote bank. Clearly, the Sena is not quite ready to give up the fight just yet.