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Pet hate: why Gujaratis are on Shiv Sena's radar again

After bashing up north and south Indians, Muslims and other minorities, the party needs a new target. An analysis by Sujata Anandan.

columns Updated: May 07, 2014 13:31 IST
Sujata Anandan

I wonder why anyone should have been surprised at the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna's anti-Gujarati editorial ranting against their so-called disloyalty to Maharashtra--apparently because they do not celebrate Maharashtra day. May 1, incidentally, is also Gujarat day, so if they stay home and do not celebrate, it could only mean they are lazy and not particularly disrespectful to the state they have made their home. But to understand the Shiv Sena's rant in this regard, one has to look into the history of Bal Thackeray's party, which was nothing if not anti-Gujarati right from the beginning.

The Shiv Sena was formed to protect the local Marathi manoos against migrants, particularly south Indians, who in the 1960s were allegedly grabbing all the white-collar jobs which, Thackeray believed, should have gone to Maharashtrians, thus reducing them to peons, clerks and labourers in various mills and manufacturing houses across Bombay. Most of these private employers were Gujaratis but their relative wealth and the exploitation of a largely immigrant Marathi-speaking labour force from the rural districts was not the only reason why the Shiv Sena hated the Gujaratis and continues to do so even 50 years after its formation.

The hate has it genesis in the formation of Maharashtra with Bombay as its state capital--carved out of the erstwhile Bombay state, which was halved to form Gujarat and Maharashtra. However, there was fierce opposition to awarding Bombay to Maharashtra and this has less to do with the Congress and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (who was persuaded by then chief minister YB Chavan to give in) than with Morarji Desai, the first, and so far only, Gujarati Prime Minister of the country. Desai at the time was the deputy PM. Earlier as chief minister of the undivided Bombay state he was conscious of the fact that a lot of Gujarati wealth was sunk into the metropolis and had wished - since he could not have stopped the bifurcation--that Bombay be awarded to Gujarat instead of Maharashtra. His opposition led to firing on Maharashtrian protesters at Flora Fountain in the 1950s, resulting in the deaths of 106 people. The Shiv Sena and a large section of middle-class Maharashtrians have neither forgotten that incident nor forgiven the Gujaratis for it.

Half a century later, the rise of another Gujarati and the resultant overshadowing of the Shiv Sena even in its core base of Bombay have shaken the party to its roots. The party's relationship with the BJP was always a troubled one but the recent Lok Sabha elections have not just added to the growing mistrust between them but also caused an existential crisis in the Sena. The Sena has milked Bal Thackeray's legacy to the hilt during these elections much as the Congress has milked the dynasty's slain leaders. Narendra Modi's overwhelming personality is fanning fears that Sena leaders may soon be reduced to mere ciphers.

The kind of double dealing that the BJP attempted just before the election campaign got underway in the state by trying to strike an alliance with the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena still rankles within the Shiv Sena. One cannot forget the fact that barring the final campaign meeting in Bombay, Modi did not think it worthwhile to invite Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray to his rallies even while campaigning for Sena candidates (like in Amravati) in the rest of the state.

Bal Thackeray never forgave that kind of a slight and I sense that Uddhav will neither. He kept up the pretence of amity during the campaign but the party is in need of a hate figure again to keep its head above the water. Things are then coming full circle for the party--after bashing up north and south Indians, Muslims and other minorities, the Gujaratis are on the radar once again.

The rise of the Gujarati clearly means the fall of the Marathi manoos. Old wounds then are beginning to fester.

(The views expressed are personal.)