How will Uddhav tackle the divide within the Shiv Sena?

  • Kunal Purohit, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Oct 21, 2015 00:41 IST

As the Shiv Sena workers who stormed into the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) office on Monday gloated over the widespread outrage the incident had caused, the brickbats were bothering Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.

The Sena took a step back — a rarity in its brand of politics — and a message was sent from Matoshree, the Thackerays’ residence. The Sena, the denial read, will not be opposed to Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar officiating the match between India and South Africa in Mumbai this Sunday.

Insiders said this episode is symbolic of the ideological battle the Sena often finds itself fighting: Uddhav’s leadership and his son Aaditya’s involvement is an attempt to give the party a liberal outlook, but clashes with the Sena cadre and the style of agitating politics they have always known — and are known for. The leadership is caught between the new Sena it aspires to build and the old one it wants to leave behind, between the new Sena guard close to Uddhav and old Sena leaders, who favour the hardline agenda.

This is not the first such conflict. After the attack on ORF chairperson Sudheendra Kulkarni, Sena workers were commended. A day later, when reports of this appeared in the media, calls went from the leadership asking them to keep quiet.

“The leadership was unhappy with the negative publicity the attack received. It didn’t want to continue fanning the controversy,” said a Sena leader.

The conflict can be traced back to 2014 too, after the Lok Sabha polls, when an editorial in the Saamna – the Sena’s mouthpiece – slammed the Gujarati community. It said they were ‘exploiting Mumbai like a whore’. Uddhav, vacationing abroad, was quick to send out a clarification, denying the editorial and issuing a retraction.

Pointing to such instances, his close aides insist Uddhav has systematically worked towards toning down the Sena’s hardline image, but as events from the past two weeks show, he has a long way to go. Even as he tones down Sena’s image, Uddhav has given a long rope to elements within his party to run the more hardline Hindutva agenda, in a bid to ensure the party’s relevance to its core voter base, and to its ally-turned-rival BJP, ahead of the 2017 civic polls. This is a reason the party mouthpiece is allowed to often carry scathing editorials.

“The Sena is a party that relies almost entirely on its cadre to carry out its functions. This cadre has been attracted to the hardline stance that the Sena has been known for. It is not easy for these workers to suddenly go quiet on the very issues the party previously agitated about. We need to maintain a fine balance between the old and new ideologies,” a long-time Sena leader admitted.

Insiders said this is Uddhav’s dilemma. How can he publicly disown activities by his own cadre, those which once earned them praise from Bal Thackeray. On the other hand, by supporting these activities publicly, he would abandon his aim of making the Sena a moderate, development-oriented party.

Journalist and political commentator Prakash Bal said only Uddhav can resolve his quandary. “Uddhav’s personality is such that he doesn’t like the ‘raada’ (agitation, often violent) style of the Sena, and he can’t get himself attuned to it, but he is also the Sena chief. In my view, it is difficult to broadbase a party like the Sena, since it has been raised on a diet of violence.”

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