The Shiv Sena, as is well known, is a creation of the Congress – Bal Thackeray could never have come as far as he has if in the initial years of his career he had not received active encouragement and funding from Congress stalwarts in Maharashtra who had a vested interest in boosting his pro-Marathi and anti-Communist agenda.
But the Sena soon tired of being the B team of the Congress and teamed up with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 1980s only to prove the Congress's nemesis a decade later when it displaced the party from the government in Maharashtra for one term between 1995 and 1999.
But power brought with it its own headaches to the Shiv Sena and the biggest of these proved to be Thackeray's nephew, Raj Thackeray , who, even when the Sena was in government, could never understand the rules of the game that must be followed by a responsible party in power. Apart from getting embroiled in the Ramesh Kini murder case (Kini was the last man standing on a housing property who refused to sign over the building to Raj in 1997), Thackeray’s nephew was constantly in trouble over his wayward ways and put his uncle to a lot of grief each time.
It is not surprising, then, that Balasaheb showed him the door: Raj's supporters could not get tickets to any election, he was kept constantly on the road for some campaign or the other to get him away from the centre of power at Matoshree, Thackeray's residence. And, of course, the most wounding of all to Raj was the fact that Thackeray declared his own son Uddhav his political heir, despite the fact that Raj was clearly the wilier politician of the two.
Formation of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena
Soon, Uddhav was shutting Raj out of everything at Matoshree, so it was only a matter of time before Raj quit the Shiv Sena to form his own party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (in 2006). It began, of course, on the secular side of the divide, trying to be all inclusive, but only ended up looking like a wannabe Congress. Seeing that moderation was taking him nowhere Raj soon changed tack – and tracks – to become a clone of the Shiv Sena: if anything, his party became more goonish, more militant and more troublesome to the authorities than the Shiv Sena had ever been.
Clearly, Raj is a chip of the old block and Shiv Sainiks who do not get along with Uddhav found in this clone of Bal Thackeray a reason to continue profiteering from their old ways. Uddhav, on the other hand, sensitive to the criticism that the Sena was just a party of goons, attempted to clean up the image of his party with a more mainstream agenda. But as the mainstream did not work for Raj Thackeray , it did not for Uddhav, either.
Now both the Senas are locked in a desperate battle for supremacy over each other, hampered by the tie of blood between them that does not allow either to go too far down the line in decimating each other once and for all. While Uddhav has the support and protection of his father, Raj is in desperate search of someone to watch his back ever since he broke away from the mother party. He has made several attempts to reach out to his uncle who snubbed him every time to make it clear that blood is far thicker than water and that he would not choose his nephew at the cost of his son’s affections, never mind that Raj was truer to his own philosophy and core strengths than Uddhav could ever be.
Uddhav vs Raj Thackeray
However, Uddhav's recent heart ailment has come in the way of these clearly divided lines within the Thackeray clan. Raj rushed to Uddhav’s bedside and his attentions clearly weakened Uddhav's combative stance against his younger cousin. However, Uddhav is convinced that allowing Raj to re-enter Matoshree or the affections of his father would hollow out his own leadership and lead to a swing of support towards Raj within the Shiv Sena . Hence, he adopts both a clever and cautious approach toward the same agenda.
So while, because of his recent angioplasty, he could not have led a morcha like Raj did last month against the vandalisation by some Muslim groups at Azad Maidan on August 11, Uddhav chose to downplay Raj's success by declaring that he is glad that at least one man is following in his footsteps and carrying the Sena agenda forward. At the same time he has made good use of his party mouthpiece, the Saamna, to mouth bizarre and unacceptable statements against Biharis: while Raj merely declared them 'infiltrators', Uddhav speaks of allowing them into Mumbai only on work permits, which is constitutionally quite impermissible.
But there is nothing new about either Uddhav's thought or Raj's actions. Bal Thackeray had made similar statements in the past threatening to deny ration cards to north Indians wanting to settle in the city. Then, as now, the Bharatiya Janata Party came down heavily on the Shiv Sena, considering that the BJP’s core voter base is in the north and they cannot afford to have the relatives of their voters denied their constitutional rights to travel and work anywhere in the country by one of their own allies.
BJP, Congress and Thackerays
The BJP is in a piquant situation today, torn between two allies, the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal (United): it cannot afford to alienate either ally with clearly differing agendas on the opposite ends of the spectrum
However, Raj Thackeray is quite a different cup of tea. He has been seeking some sort of political protection from his uncle for several years but he seems to have now got from the Congress what Thackeray has denied him all this while.
In keeping with their 1960s' agenda, Congress chief ministers this century, too, have tried to play games with the two Senas, taking advantage of the family split to covertly back Raj as he went on a rampage against North Indians in Mumbai. No action was taken against him and no cases registered in Maharashtra, until the UPA I's allies – Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav – took serious objections. It was then that then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was told in no uncertain terms by his own party high command to shape up or ship out.
When, at the 2009 assembly elections, it proved that Raj might be eating into the Congress vote bank, too, apart from the Marathi manoos wooed by the Shiv Sena, the Congress-led government began to squeeze his business interests to shut him up. Six of his 13 MLAs were suspended from the Maharashtra Assembly for creating a ruckus and for manhandling the Samajwadi Party's Abu Asim Azmi in the House. Moreover, most of his party men -- who are builders -- found their licenses revoked and they could get no workers for their construction sites (most construction workers in Maharashta are from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh).
With his own party men choosing to protect their own business interests rather than building their political party, Raj found the ground slipping from under his feet. The MNS did not post as impressive a result as expected at the February 2012 municipal elections in the state and by June this year the party could not even register enough voters among graduates and teachers to be able to contest elections to the Maharashtra legislative council. Raj, according to sources, was so sore that he virtually threatened to shut his party down.
Return of Raj Thackeray
However, the Shiv Sena has always benefitted more from the mistakes of other political parties, particularly the Congress, than it has ever gained from its own original programmes. So, when the Congress-led government in the state mishandled the aftermath of the Azad Maidan violence, Raj had reason to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, particularly as he now found backing from chief minister Prithviraj Chavan who, for reasons of his own, chose to allow Raj to hold a rally at Azad Maidan despite the denial of police permission. When Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar railed against Chavan's government for allowing Raj's unconstitutional agenda of threatening Biharis to go unchallenged, Chavan chose to accuse his Bihar counterpart of playing political games rather than order to file cases against Raj Thackeray for violation of the Constitution.
Assured of such protection, Raj clearly feels free to continue with the kind of rants that had cost at least two lives and damaged much property during his wild 2008 run (a fellow Maharashtrian died in MNS violence in Nasik and a Bihari youth was killed in Mumbai).
The Congress clearly hopes that the two Senas will cannibalise each other once again and that it could be the proverbial monkey who runs away with the cheese as the two cats fight over the spoils of war. The tragedy for the people of the state is that all the political formations in Maharashtra are in disarray and no one party is certain about how it may fare at the electoral hustings. The two Senas have not yet come to the realisation that their Marathi manoos is simply not interested in the kind of (Class 4) jobs that migrant workers are seeking in the state. Or even that the violence against these workers is damaging the Maharashtrian's own economic interests, compelling many local businesses to move base elsewhere. If Raj's twisted philosophy were to be adopted by other states, his own Marathi manoos would be an infiltrator in other parts of the country.
As for the Congress, one wonders if it has studied the statistics of Bihari workers shifting in hordes to neighbouring Gujarat which is welcoming them with open arms. These are potential voters it might be losing – those very voters whose support its seeks to gain by letting Raj on the loose.
And while it is busy watching Raj’s back, its own rear clearly stands exposed.
Views expressed are personal.
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