On Sunday, it will be fifty years since a young Bal Thackeray along with a handful of others broke a coconut to signify the formation of an organisation called the Shiv Sena.
Five decades from that day, Thackeray’s son Uddhav is now firmly in-charge of the party, in power in the city, state and centre. Speaking to HT, Uddhav and his elder son and heir apparent Aaditya reflected back on the journey so far, saying that while the party had evolved, its ideology hadn’t.
A measure of the change that has swept the party was also a statement from Aaditya, signifying how the Thackerays’ traditional ‘remote control’ might finally be shed. ““Let the people and party decide if I should join the legislative politics,” he told HT on Wednesday.
Excerpts from an interview:
Sena completes 50 years and you have been witness to the Sena’s journey. Are you satisfied where the Sena stands now?
Uddhav: I am satisfied about one thing, that the Sena is a party which has fought against injustice and never accepted any compromise. In these 50 years, many waves came and went but we remained firm where we stood.
What is the Sena’s biggest achievement in all these years?
Uddhav: Try and take the Sena out of the city’s history and people’s lives and see how things stand. Be it social work, community work, from helping people in times of need to helping parents with their kids’ admission, try and imagine how it would be had the Sena not existed. The Sena provides a sense of security to people, especially in Mumbai.
One of the Sena’s biggest planks was introducing the city to politics around the son of the soil. As part of it, various communities were targeted - from South Indians to Gujaratis to North Indians. Somewhere, this targeting has harmed the city’s liberal image. Don’t you think so?
Uddhav: These allegations were made against us but they had no impact on the Sena. Those who have seen the Sena at work know what it stands for. Those who pretend that they don’t know what the Sena stands for, keep misleading the people.
The Shiv Sena has, over the last few years, undergone quite an image transformation. Today, the Sena is often seen taking up issues which are requisites of a modern city, be it having a nightlife or restaurants on the rooftop.
Uddhav: We have not changed our image or ideology. The way in which we present our ideology has changed. The language and discourse has to evolve with every passing generation. The discourse during my grandfather’s times was not retained during my father’s time and so on.
Aaditya: The core ideology has remained the same but the way in which it has been implemented, the medium of communication has also changed. Such flexibility has helped us remain relevant for 50 years.
The Sena took advantage of controversies while staging violent agitations for the sons of soil. In the past few years, the perception is that Mumbai is losing out to cities like Gurgaon, Noida and Bangalore in attracting companies and investment. Do you think that is a fallout of your agitation?
Uddhav: Mumbai is not losing out to those cities. However, important offices based out of Mumbai have been deliberately shifted to other cities, like the Air India office. You might say I am being controversial, but the Centre has made efforts deliberately to reduce the city’s significance.
Aaditya: In fact, it was after the infrastructural projects by our government, like the city’s 55 flyovers, that the city’s suburbs saw growth and development. In the early 1990s, ‘ease of doing businesses meant that you must pay up to gangsters if you got a new car or started a new business. We were the ones who made the city safe for businesses to flourish by ending gang wars.
The relationship between the Sena and violence is intriguing. You have justified the use of violence if it has been towards a cause.
Uddhav: You must separate agitations from violence. If someone is not paying heed to our agitations, what should we do?
Under you, this has also changed. Sena is not as violent party as it used to be.
Uddhav: This is what I am saying, that there have been misperceptions about the Sena. Whatever you call it, agitations or violence, the Shiv Sena is a force. This forced saved the city in the 1993 riots. It is now helping the people in dry villages of Marathwada by carrying out drought-relief works. You criticize the force if things go out of hand, but then you must also applaud it for the times it has been doing positive.
When you took over the party and handled the 2002 civic polls full-fledged, there were a lot of questions about your leadership. Now, your party is in power in Mumbai, in the state and at the Centre. You even fought against the Modi wave and emerged with the second highest numbers. Are you more assured about your leadership now?
Uddhav: I never think of my own leadership. The people who doubted my leadership and raised questions need to think about it now. I have never considered myself as a leader. I know that the Shiv Sena is a strong force which needs to be channelised for the benefit of my city, state and country.
The relations between the Sena and BJP have reached new lows, even making allegations. Your party was accused of corruption.
Uddhav: Those are only allegations. Nothing like that is proved. We can also make such allegations and if we do, there will be only mudslinging. However, we have maintained dignity so far. Their (BJP) government is in power. They even conducted inquiries into the desilting inquiries and road works. What did they find? In fact, I want them to conduct more such probes so that people know that no Shiv Sainik is involved in any sort of corruption.
What next for the Sena now?
Uddhav: Whatever works we have taken up, we want to finish them off soon. In fact, this is what I said, that it is because of our focus on 80% social work and 20% politics that we didn’t come to power earlier. We both fought the Congress and opposed it, and did that together till the Lok Sabha polls. In fact, when Modi was declared the Prime Ministerial candidate, we were the first ones to back him.
Many often feel that now that the two of you have struck power, you must ensure there is better coordination to ensure good governance, rather than skirmishes every day.
Uddhav: Definitely, yes. I don’t criticize only for the sake of it. I feel that we must advise them and ask them to correct any wrong steps that we take.
Aaditya: Both parties have mass bases and are in government. Hence, it is important that both are heard publicly. If we are against the destruction of Aarey forest or the land acquisition process, we have to speak out. It is important the views of both parties are known to their supporters.
But, shouldn’t there be a better mechanism to ensure these debates within the government don’t lead to a bitter tussle?
Uddhav: There are issues that must be discussed within close confines, which are discussed that way. But, if there are issues which affect people, then I must come out and make our stand clear. But, if our private objections don’t have any impact, then we will have to come out and make ourselves heard. For instance, I criticised the railway tariff hike. This was an issue affecting the masses. I don’t travel by trains. If I wouldn’t have spoken out, people would have slammed me for keeping quiet. They haven’t voted my party to power for keeping quiet.
Often, you are the first one to criticize the government, even before the opposition parties react to it.
Uddhav: You might think that I am an opponent but I have to speak for people to know that I have a different view. I may have an alliance but I haven’t merged my party with the BJP.
You have seen generations of the BJP leadership, from Vajpayee to Advani to Mahajan and Munde. Don’t you think this is a difference between the current BJP leadership and then?
Uddhav: Back then, the generation wanted to learn. Atalji would personally call, Advani would call, he would often drop in, Mahajan was like a brother to me. I’d say that the current leaders are sarvagunasampana (The one with all the virtues). They don’t need anyone.
Why Sena couldn’t win power on its own, like other regional parties such as Telagu Desam Party of Trinamool Congress?
Uddhav: There is a big difference between others and us. Balasaheb didn’t quit any other party to create the Sena. We have never pursued 100% politics, always 80% social work, 20% politics. Had we focused solely on politics, we could have probably come to power single-handedly. Take a look around and you’ll see the fate of those who have in the past and continue to only focus on 100% politics.
The Thackerays have always maintained that they won’t occupy any position of power. But, do you think that could change with Aaditya’s generation?
Uddhav: Neither did Balasaheb tell me to do this (shy away from all posts) nor did I tell Aaditya. This is a personal choice. Let Aaditya decide if he wants to occupy such a post.
Aaditya: We have always been very active in politics even if we have been out of legislative politics. My father, in fact, takes feedback from people and tells the government what must be done. So, not opting for a post doesn’t mean we take a backseat. But then it is up to the people and the party to decide.
Politics is increasingly getting personalised like the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Do you think it is a good step? Your editorials, in fact, cautioned BJP against such politics.
Uddhav: Much of that depends on who the person is and what his ideology is. If the person is good, his ideology is good, then it is definitely better than going astray. If we practice person-centric politics, then the responsibility of that person is heightened since he has to weigh his words and ensure that each of his promise comes true or else people will lose faith in democracy. The ultimate power is in the hands of the people.
Will the 2017 BMC polls signal change? Indications are that you and the BJP will fight separately.
Uddhav: There has been no talk between us regarding the BMC polls yet. As we come closer to the date, the discussions on it will begin seriously.
The BJP has started preparations seriously. They’ve also made a committee consisting of senior state and national leaders.
Uddhav: They are well within their rights to do so. They had made such committees in Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
The Modi government has completed two years amidst much fanfare. Are you satisfied with the government’s performance?
Uddhav: They themselves have publicised their achievements and told the people what they’ve done, so there is no need for me to comment on it. The government is for the people. So, you must ask the people if they are satisfied with its performance or not.
You had proposed several big projects for the city including development of the eastern waterfront but they all seem to be getting stuck at some point or the other.
Uddhav: I gave them a proposal on how to develop the waterfront. They even made a committee on it but no one knows what happened to it. This used to happen with the earlier government and now it is happening with our government too. Then, how have things changed? Desh badal raha hai, theek hai. But, I don’t know if Mumbai and Maharashtra are changing.
In the 50 years of the Sena, history is witness that whenever there has been a split in the Sena, the party has come out stronger. What could be the challenges for the party in the future?
Uddhav: Call it good fortune or bad, but the entire picture is clear to all-who are ours and who are not.
But, do you think it’s time to create some new friendships?
Uddhav: After all that has happened, we are wary of even calling someone a friend. One wonders if anyone is left who is worthy of being friends with.
During the last assembly elections, MNS chief and cousin Raj Thackeray had said that there was a dialogue between your party and the MNS on coming together. Do you see that happening in the future?
I have already said that we are now clear on who our friends and enemies are. Hence, there is no confusion left in the minds of the people and the Shiv Sainik.
You seem to harbour national ambitions, considering you are fighting elections in other states.
So far, we used to not fight seriously in other states because we didn’t want to cause a split in Hindu votes, which was only causing us a loss. But, those who garnered votes on the basis of Hindutva don’t seem to be doing enough to take the cause forward. We will now take time to establish ourselves in these states but we are ready.
How do you think the party shaping up in the coming years? Will your agenda change or remain the same?
Uddhav: Sena was formed by Balasaheb for the people. We will continue to be among the people, won’t chase the power.
Aditya: The Sena is unique in the sense that it doesn’t fit into any fixed square of definitions. We will stick to our ideology which evolves with changing times.