Shiv Sena never really sleeps, like, as they say, Devil. It is always in election mode, always ready for a fight and always alert to political opportunities. Bal Thackeray’s party likes to be there, at the right place and at the right time.
So, while the Congress waits with ecstatic anticipation for Rahul Gandhi to spin the Gandhi magic, and the BJP struggles to settle a never-ending leadership tussle, the Sena has sent out a team to gauge the mood of voters in Maharashtra.
And more importantly to bring back reports on its elected representatives MPs, MLAs and municipal councilors. This team of surveyors has about 200 persons drawn from Sena’s Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti, a trade union for white-collar professionals.
The team’s report will, of course, play a large role in the speedily revolutionising work culture of what is actually a family-run enterprise. The distribution of party tickets will be determined by how the existing representatives were rated.
This is the new Shiv Sena, Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. Though he lacks the charisma of his father Bal Thackeray, the photographer-turned-executive president of the party is meticulously crafting Sena’s strategy for the elections widely expected in the next six months.
Sensing an opportunity to put an end to eight years of ‘Vanvas’ as it is been out of power since 1999, the Sena is leaving nothing to chance, inside of Uddhav’s corporate management style of functioning, or outside in its traditional bastion: the street.
“We are ready for the elections,” said party spokesperson and Member of Parliament Sanjay Raut, adding, “Our grassroot cadre is always busy in one or the other activity throughout the year as Shiv Sena is more of an organization and less of a political party.
Since its inception in 1966, the Sena has been steadily widening its base and support, translating it into tangibles like seats in the municipal councils, Vidhan Sabha and the Lok Sabha. Always run like a family concern, it’s been extremely intolerant of dissent.
The first jolt for this mama-and-papa political store came in 1991 with the exit of senior party leader Chhagan Bhujbal with a few legislators.
The next blow came in 2005 when Narayan Rane and Thackeray’s popular nephew Raj revolted as a result of power tussle with Uddhav.
However, Thackeray’s son and his party survived the crisis and returned with a bang retaining the control of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), India’s richest civic body in polls earlier this year.
It took five major civic bodies elsewhere in the city. The revolt by Raj, the most disconcerting of the two (the second being Rane’s), had not harmed the party much though the leadership had feared the worst knowing his popularity.
That’s like a batsman in good form. And the party wisemen want to keep the party in good form.
The party’s electoral plank is likely to be declared by Thackeray senior himself in his annual Dussehra address in October.
Chances are that the party will announce a return to hardline Hindutva. The party moved away from it having used it to ride into power in 1995; in fact, Sena tried to get into the good books of the minorities. It didn’t work of course.
Now the party is ready. “We can sense the opportunity. The Congress itself is giving us fodder in the form of Sachar report, Ram Setu proposal and implementation of Srikrishna Commission report. The more they appease the Muslims, the more polarisation of Hindu votes will be happening,” said a key party leader.
Little wonder, the Sena chose to bury its differences with alliance partner BJP, as it did not want division of Hindu votes and also the anti-incumbency feelings against the current Congress-NCP government that is ruling for eight years.
At the same time, the party is keeping its backdoor open for parleys with Sharad Pawar led Nationalist Congress Party in case the post-poll scenario changes. The two parties are already ruling the Pune civic body in alliance.