In the dangerous political game the Shiv Sena is playing after its defeat in last year’s assembly and Lok Sabha elections, there is one victim no one can save. It is not the “north Indian” or the “sympathetic-to-Pakistan Muslim,” broad-brush categories the Sena has created to suit its interests.
It is the Marathi manoos.
He is a volleyball, thrown up in the air, swatted down, and hurled any which way by the party for 44 years; cynically exploited, mentally hemmed in, pushed aside when not needed, but when the need arises, picked up and played with again.
The Shiv Sena has been an unavoidable phenomenon in Maharashtra politics.
In 1960, Maharashtrians got political power in Mumbai for the first time (only tax-payers voted before Independence and, even after universal suffrage was introduced in 1948, the Marathi-speaking population didn’t have much power). Political power was not, however, accompanied by economic progress; and empowerment of the political kind led to questioning of economic backwardness.
The Sena was born of this impatience. It was an expression of local sentiment, but in large part because of the controversial methods it employed, its issues were dismissed as unreal, and the grievances it spoke about as imagined ones.
This only fuelled the Sena’s growth. After getting hold of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), whose budget exceeds that of many states, the party came to power in the state in 1995.
It did nothing for Maharashtrians during four-and-a-half years in power. It did not build any institutions for the preservation and growth of Marathi culture nor take steps to encourage local enterprise. It did not promote the Marathi language or literature; it cared little as eateries specialising in local cuisine closed one after the other, as Marathi schools shut (again, one after the other); it provided no affordable housing to locals; and while Sena leaders switched from bicycle to the swishest SUV almost overnight, the ordinary manoos was forced to move from central Mumbai to Thane, Kalyan, Dombivli and Vasai-Virar. The mills closed, but, of course, the consolation was that there would be Sena leaders to buy their lands.
Desperate to regain territory, the party is now using the methods it knows, inviting labels for the ordinary Maharashtrian — “parochial,” “narrow-minded”, etc — that he or she does not quite deserve. That some of the issues are still seen as “”imagined” only gives the party greater legitimacy.
With its new competitor, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, too in full flow, the vicious circle has begun again: an emotional upsurge, agitations, occasional violence and disillusionment for ordinary people, while the netas make merry.