If there was anything unpredictable about the manner in which the mega funeral of the Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray went off, it is that it passed off without the usual aggression of his cadres. The only glitch seemed to be the tension between his chosen heir and son Uddhav and his nephew Raj who heads the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The question that everyone is asking is what will happen given the vacuum created by the exit of Bal Thackeray. Will the Shiv Sena reinvent itself into a kinder, gentler party? Or will it continue with its demonisation of the other and its bizarre concept of constructive violence? The post-Bal Thackeray Sena will pose a much greater problem for the inheritor than a simple reinvention or continuation of present policies.
If, for the sake of the argument, the party were to give up its core competence of obstruction and violence, then it loses its USP. It then becomes yet another party, albeit an undemocratic one, which will have to compete with others like the NCP or the Cong-ress with their vastly more complex and superior agendas. There are lessons for the Shiv Sena in what happened to the BJP when in the post-Advani years, it decided to move away from its hard Hin-dutva and become a more holistic and rounded party. It found that this did not yield any significant electoral dividends and also found itself at the receiving end of the wrath of its ideological mentor, the RSS. It was a difficult decision to make, but the BJP did it and it continues to hold fast to that. If the Sena decides to hold on to its Thackeray-inspired model of disregarding the law and finding new targets to attack in order to stay relevant, it must realise that this is hardly likely to work in this day and age. Here there is a lesson from the Gujarat of Narendra Modi. After the fateful riots, he was quick to move away to a development agenda and obscure the fact that a huge carnage took place. And that has indeed paid off for him.
The Mumbai of today is not the Mumbai of the time when Bal Thackeray cut his teeth. The Sena’s lack of any constructive agenda might have still kept it afloat with a towering figure like Bal Thackeray at the helm. In its present form, it is not likely to add any value to any future alliance it will form. So, painful though it may be, it will have to bite the bullet and change its ways. It will have to come up with a more inclusive and constructive agenda, not constructive violence to stay relevant. True, it may face some time on the margins. But, this is one way of ensuring that the party that Bal Thackeray founded does not fade into oblivion. That it still has followers was evident from the turn-out at Bal Thackeray’s funeral. It should heed the words of its founder who said that political situations cannot remain static and that responses too cannot remain static. Sentiments that the party should pay very close attention to.