The Shiv Sena will celebrate its 50th year in 2016. As it prepares to commemorate the occasion, it would do well to reflect on a significant message from the Maharashtra Assembly election result: the diminishing returns of its belligerent sons-of-the-soil philosophy and the need to embrace a more inclusive ideology that emphasises development above narrow divisive lines.
The Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s endeavour to ratchet up the Marathi vote by pitting Maharashtrians against Gujaratis, who purportedly support the BJP, did not bring home the expected dividend. The results show that the BJP, now the preferred choice of the urban voter, has posed a stiff challenge to the nativist ideology that powered the Sena all these decades.
In its bastion of Mumbai, the Sena bagged 15 of the 36 seats, vastly improving its tally of four in the previous election, but only a whisker ahead of the BJP’s 14. In neighbouring Thane, India’s most populated and fast urbanising district, also a Sena fortress, the party won four of 16 seats. The BJP won six.
All BJP candidates won by big margins but those of the Sena squeaked past by a few thousand votes. Further, of the total 44 seats that it held in 2009, the Sena retained 22 but watched the BJP wrest 12 from it. Conversely, the Sena could manage to take only one seat from the 46 that the BJP held in the previous Assembly.
That the BJP won in some seats with a substantial Marathi-speaking electorate should convince the Sena leadership that its ideology has lost its appeal. The Sena switched from the Marathi manoos plank to Hindutva in the 1990s, and opportunistically reverted in this election. While it impressed the party’s committed voter, it left others cold in the face of the development that the BJP promised.
Uddhav’s only consolation would be that the debate about his father’s political heir has been decided, finally, in his favour. His estranged cousin, Raj Thackeray, whose Maharashtra Navnirman Sena could manage to win only one seat, should now start afresh.
His one-point agenda, of drawing attention by provoking violence on the issue of migration, has been emphatically rejected by voters. His inability to capitalise on the road toll issue and his flip-flop on Prime Minister Narendra Modi — supporting the latter in the Lok Sabha polls and treating him as an adversary in the Assembly polls — has left him in the wilderness.
It may be premature to, however, declare the decline of identity politics in Maharashtra, given the unexpected victory of two All India All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen candidates, one of them in south Mumbai’s Byculla.