It’s never happened before. One of the Shiv Sena’s cardinal rules was broken on Sunday when a group of Sainiks marched on supremo Bal Thackeray’s fortress-like residence at Bandra.
A bunch of leaders including the Sena’s pointman in Konkan, Ramdas Kadam, threatened to defect if not given the party ticket for the October 13 polls. This was the first time in 43 years that the party leadership’s decision was being questioned so openly. (Kadam has now been fielded from Guhagar in the Konkan.)
So what caused this violation of the Sainiks’ credo of loyalty to the leadership above all else. The obvious answer is that Uddhav Thackeray is not Bal Thackeray; that he doesn’t command the kind of respect his father did. Uddhav, seen as a more corporate-style neta, is not known to applaud if his supporters bash up a rebel.
“Earlier, the Sainiks were scared of Sena chief Thackeray,” said city-based political analyst Nilu Damle. “Now with the exit of people like [Narayan] Rane, [Chhagan] Bhujbal and Raj Thackeray, the Sena has less muscle power.”
The root of the protest lies in the unhappiness of a section of the Sena cadre with the way Uddhav picks candidates. The charge is that Uddhav shortlists candidates by consulting his “kitchen cabinet” of confidants like his secretary Milind Narwekar.
What has emboldened Sainiks is also the option of switching to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, formed by Raj Thackeray when he broke away in 2005. In fact, many hardliners in the Sena could probably relate more to the fiery Raj.
Aligning with Industries Minister Narayan Rane, who left the Sena to join the Congress, is another option for disgruntled Sainiks.
Despite these avenues open to them, it is moot whether so many would have questioned the Sena leadership if there had been a strong anti-government wave. If they had been sure that the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government that has ruled Maharashtra for a decade would be swept out of power.
The question is: will this rebellion damage the Sena’s chances?
“Clearly, there is problem in the Sena. But it may not damage the Sena beyond a limit as all parties are facing rebel trouble,” says Damle. “Increasingly, for political workers the priority is to become legislators and then ministers. Parties are becoming secondary. The Sena is no exception to this trend.”