The Shiv Sena is a party which is perpetually in the opposition — even when it is ruling. The last time it was in government (1995), it had mistaken the mandate for a green signal for extortion and violence. I wonder if people remember those inglorious days, but I hope they will recollect how during that time Bal Thackeray had welcomed the then Pakistan envoy with open arms at Matoshree.
A few days later, I remember Thackeray addressing a press meet at Matoshree along with cricketer Javed Miandad, whose son is married to Dawood’s daughter. Miandad had asked Thackeray if he would allow the resumption of India-Pakistan matches in Bombay and he quipped: “If you make me the captain of the Pakistan cricket team!’’ Amid laughter, a reporter asked him to answer the question seriously. “I am not against the matches. It is politics responsible for spoiling relations between the two countries,’’ Thackeray said.
I wondered then if Thackeray knew whose politics it was for I could not think of another politician whose party men had destroyed the pitch at the Wankhede Stadium in 1991 or of another political party that had objected to normalising relations between the two countries. But having studied the Sena closely for years, I think I know why the party even today feels the need to oppose everything Pakistani.
Born out of a feeling of injustice to local Maharashtrians in Bombay, it lost its USP when the issue was addressed by the 1970s and the upwardly mobile Maharashtrian youth moved away from the Sena’s goonish tactics. Thackeray then discovered that an anti-Muslim stance worked better across the board. But when the party was voted to power in 1995 on a substantial Muslim vote — the community wishing to teach the Congress a lesson after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 — the Sena’s interests were compromised. Thackeray had to call for a secular monument in Ayodhya in place of the Babri Masjid, his government was compelled to keep the Muslim vote by increasing FSI for their mosques, regularising their illegitimate businesses and issuing them licences for new ones. But when Muslims switched loyalties back to the Congress after Sonia Gandhi took over in 1999, Thackeray was stumped. For friendships had developed between Muslims and the Sena leaders, they were no longer willing to go back to the old ways and, in any case, some Muslims were still voting for the party.
It was then that Thackeray subtly shifted his anti-Muslim stance to an anti-Pakistani one — it worked even better, uniting all Indians and at the same time it helped to consolidate a Hindu right position without alienating Indian Muslims.
Sometimes the anti-Pakistan stand spilled over — like when they targeted Shah Rukh Khan for his appeal in 2010 to include Pakistani cricketers in the Indian Premier League. At that time, the then Congress-NCP government pulled out all the stops and called the Sena’s bluff ensuring a safe release for his ‘My name is Khan’. It must have been odd for the BJP-led government, though, to now similarly provide security against its own ally for the release of former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book, ‘Neither a hawk, nor a dove’. For, unlike the BJP, the Sena knows well it will never have to bother about international diplomacy. Putting pressure thus on its ally works better for its interests, considering the BJP had determined to finish the Sena while in government. The Sena now has skilfully assured its place under the Bombay sun; it knows the BJP has no option but to like it or lump it. The party will never be able to dump the Sena any time soon.