The Shiv Sena turns 44 today but Sainiks are not celebrating.
The challenges the party faces have clouded the revelry. Sainiks say they are finding the party directionless and in danger of losing public support. The man in the hot seat, Executive President Uddhav Thackeray, is also maintaining a low profile.
“We can see the leadership is unable to stop the downward trend in our fortune,” said a party functionary requesting anonymity. “There is lack of strategy as far as planning is concerned.”
Political analysts say the Sena needs to make the party more appealing to young voters.
“The Sena is an example of what a community can do when pushed against the wall. It needs to modernise to appeal to the young generation and bring in context,” political analyst Aroon Tikekar said.
The party’s immediate problems include internal unrest, consolidating its tie-up with its ally of 25 years, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and beating the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to gain voters’ confidence.
Aggressive competition from the MNS has left the Sena worried about its support base. It needs to desperately win the February 2012 BMC elections to consolidate its position.
It was the civic bodies that helped the Sena grow in Thane and Mumbai.
The biggest blow to the party was the loss in Assembly elections in October 2009 when it won fewer seats than expected and lost the tag of being the main opposition party to the BJP.
Uddhav confidant Anil Parab’s loss in the recently concluded Legislative Council polls added insult to injury. “This portrayed the Sena as a party weak in strategic planning,” a party office bearer said requesting anonymity.
The party is also dealing with internal strife. Last week, Sainiks from Nashik burnt an effigy of party Member of Parliament Sanjay Raut over appointments to party posts alleging that “Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena” was different from “Uddhav’s Shiv Sena”.
The party has also been at loggerheads with its ally, the BJP. “It started with difference of opinion on Vidarbha and later spread to the Belgaum issue where the Sena alleged that the BJP government in Karnataka is denying local Maharashtrians their rights,” a party functionary said.
The latest rift was over civic polls in Aurangabad after the BJP tied up with the Congress. Sena chief Bal Thackeray rapped the BJP for “weakening Hindutva” and Sena activists ransacked the BJP office at Auranagabad. The partners have now formed a co-ordination committee and to iron out differences. “There are issues at various levels and they can be best sorted out by sitting at a table and talking,” Sena MP and spokesperson Bharat Kumar Raut said.
Some Sainiks are, however, focusing on the positives. “A local party that started for the rights of the community has today reached the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha,” said Dattaji Nalavade, one of the party’s founding members. “There have been hiccups but the success has proved Balasaheb’s vision.”