Maharashtra votes 2024: In a state brimming with dynasties, who speaks for the Maharashtrian? | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Maharashtra votes 2024: In a state brimming with dynasties, who speaks for the Maharashtrian?

May 03, 2024 11:28 AM IST

Pawars, Patils, Deshmukhs, Shindes, Chavans, Bhonsles, Thackerays, Khadses, Ranes, Deoras, Gaikwads and more have their younger generation in the political fray

In Baramati, the home turf of the Pawars and the pocket borough of the Nationalist Congress Party, the contest is between sisters-in-law Supriya Sule and Sunetra Pawar. Sule is the daughter of the house, was in the Rajya Sabha since 2006 and later elected to the Lok Sabha for three consecutive terms in 2009, 2014 and 2019. Pawar, married into the household, was content being wife to Ajit Pawar till this election when the NCP, split last year, propped her up as a candidate of her husband’s faction. Whichever way Baramati votes, a Pawar will win.

Sunetra Pawar, Praful Patel, Ajit Pawar, Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis at a political rally. Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray's portrait is seen at the back. (HT)
Sunetra Pawar, Praful Patel, Ajit Pawar, Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis at a political rally. Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray's portrait is seen at the back. (HT)

Political work may not have been a family enterprise for all budding politicians but electoral representation has been that in India. Besides, nepotism or dynastic succession has hardly been limited to the Congress party; the list of dynasts runs long in the BJP as well as regional parties. As this trend becomes more entrenched with every election, except in the Left parties, and an increasing number of dynasts bag party nominations and get elected, the approach of consolidating power, command and wealth within the family – as in a business empire – takes precedence over political essentials like ideology and representation.

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In Maharashtra’s politics, as parties like the NCP and Shiv Sena split, this has also meant an erosion of, among other things, all things Maharashtrian. Examples abound. Girgaum in south Mumbai and the Dadar-Parel-Lalbaug belt in central Mumbai were once the citadels of Maharashtrians, representing the identity, culture, language and ethos of the Marathi manus. In the last 15 years or so, these areas have seen an increasing blend of residents from other linguistic communities and cultures – more Gujarati in the by-lanes of Girgaum, more Hindi or Hinglish than before in Dadar-Parel.

This may be a hat-tip to the city’s once-admired cosmopolitanism but to many Maharashtrians it sounds and looks like the unmaking of Mumbai’s Marathipann or what was popularly termed as Marathiasmita. The erosion or transformation – depending on one’s perspective – has happened, ironically, under the watch of political parties such as Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena which claimed to speak for and uphold the interests of the Marathi manus.

As the state’s politics witnessed a changeover to BJP-style socio-political domination over the political landscape, despite the long-standing alliance with the Sena in which the latter had the upper hand, Maharashtrian sub-nationalism and identity appear to have become feeble. The sub-nationalism has had varied expressions – from geography to culture, from the political left to the right, from Dalits to the upper castes. The salute-shout “Jai Hind” is not complete till “Jai Maharashtra” is added to it.

Among those who articulated it fiercely in the political arena was the Sena chief, the late Bal Thackeray. The Sena indulged in belligerent and violent expression of the Maharashtrian identity and, wrongly, claimed to be the sole or strongest representative of the interests of Maharashtrians, especially in cities. Despite the self-appointed saviour status and its unbroken majority in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections since 1985, the number of Marathi medium schools in the city dwindled from 483 in 2010-11 to 280 a decade later, a 42 percent decrease, to take but one example.

Whether in cities or beyond them, Marathi sub-nationalism and identity assertion found guardians and advocates in politicians who took them to the corridors of power in New Delhi. With the engineered split of the Shiv Sena and NCP, and the Congress unable to find its once-powerful voice in the state, the Maharashtrian sub-nationalist expression has been sort of flattened. The BJP in Maharashtra has been quiet about Marathi asmita, attempting to subsume it into the pan-Indian Hindu identity it is shaping.

That leaves the question and space open: who speaks for the Marathi manus and Maharashtra in Delhi anymore?

Sure, the state government led by both Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde got the Marathi Bhasha Bhavan off the ground but several other issues have been erased from political agendas – declaration of Marathi as a classical language, farmers’ suicides issue that needs constant airing in the Parliament, the shift of mega investments from Maharashtra to other states, the continued attack on the state’s ecology – for example, along the pristine Konkan coast – to locate mega projects, the border issue with Karnataka, and so on. Even the reformist and rationalist voices from Maharashtra are heard less, except in select ‘safe’ circles.

This has to do, at least partly, with the trajectory of state politics turning into family enterprises in recent years when dynastic succession – family name – became the calling card for political success. The Pawars, Patils, Deshmukhs, Shindes, Chavans, Bhonsles, Thackerays, Mohite-Patils, Mahajan-Mundes, Khadses, Ranes, Tatkares, Deoras, Gawlis, Gaikwads and more have their younger generation in the political fray, across political parties, in key roles if not as candidates in elections. Virtually no party in Maharashtra is free of dynasts staking claim at power; though the late Thackeray used to ridicule the Congress about the Gandhi dynasty, not only his second generation (Uddhav and Raj) but even the third generation (Aaditya) is in electoral politics.

Given their clout and hold over the network of cooperatives ranging from banks and credit societies to sugar factories and dairies, the younger generation – often the third since the cooperatives were established – have been parachuted into significant roles in these places irrespective of their familiarity with the ground situation or knowledge of the management of the cooperatives. This feeds their politics. In an era where political ideology matters less and politics is more an enterprise, the key purpose of political power seems to be to keep power within the family or clan.

When four mega projects with a total investment of nearly 1.8 lakh crore, which were to be situated in Maharashtra and provide jobs, moved out of the state within four months in 2022 to relocate to Gujarat, the then leader of opposition Ajit Pawar spoke up for Maharashtra. Taking a swipe at the newly sworn-in government of Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis, he told a news agency: “Despite having 100 times more conducive environment for business in the state compared to other states, we are losing the projects”. In January 2024, after he had switched loyalties and become deputy chief minister, Pawar remarked that the government “would not have sat silent if our projects went to Gujarat”.

If Pawar is politically and ideologically fluid to speak on both sides of the debate, and there are others like him, who, then, speaks for Maharashtra?

Smruti Koppikar is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, essayist and city chronicler. This article is part of an 8-segment series about issues that are crucial to Maharashtra’s development.

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