Shinde’s move shows widening gap among Sena cadres

Published on Jun 21, 2022 10:26 PM IST

Eknath Shinde’s stunt move is symptomatic of the larger problems that beset the party after the death of Balasaheb Thackeray: the widening gap between the new cadre and the old Sena

The initial appeal for the movement that Bal Thackeray then channelled into a political party in 1966, lay in the fighting for the rights of the sons of soil (HT Photo)
The initial appeal for the movement that Bal Thackeray then channelled into a political party in 1966, lay in the fighting for the rights of the sons of soil (HT Photo)
BySanjay Patil

Mumbai Eknath Shinde is not the first leader to rebel in the Shiv Sena. Before him, there was Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray. Many attempts have been made to fracture the Sena but Shinde’s defection with 20 MLAs is the most serious threat yet to the hegemony of the Thackeray family. It also comes at a point when questions are being raised about Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government following recent setbacks in the Rajya Sabha (RS) and legislative council elections.

For those studying the Shiv Sena, Eknath Shinde’s stunt move is symptomatic of the larger problems that beset the party after the death of Balasaheb Thackeray: the widening gap between the new cadre and the old Sena.

The initial appeal for the movement that Bal Thackeray then channelled into a political party in 1966, lay in the fighting for the rights of the sons of soil. Bal Thackeray’s appeal as a charismatic, action-oriented leader who constantly emphasised on ‘doing things on the ground’, his aura, his othering of first, the south Indians and then the Muslims, and his espousal of benevolent dictatorship found a large fan base among a section of young Marathi-speaking men in Bombay. His aadesh (sermon) had a great significance for all the party workers and supporters and the Sena eventually built a culture where dissent of any kind was not tolerated.

Uddhav Thackeray, who took over the party in the 1990s, brought about significant changes in the party’s overall outlook and functioning even as Balasaheb was alive. Much more restrained than his father, and aware of Mumbai’s changing demographic, Uddhav tried to transform Sena’s culture of street-style aggression into one that relied more on darbari rajkaran (courtroom politics). Several senior leaders and Sainiks were uncomfortable with this. Eventually, the discontent within the party grew and led to the exit of senior leaders like Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray. While the second-generation Thackeray did bring in a structure to the party’s working, many were disappointed with his close-door working style which was a big contrast from the Thackeray senior who was accessible for any and every Sainik. The Sena under Uddhav was attempting to change for the better but its drift from the original nativist and Hindutva appeal also created a dissonance within the rank and file. Over the last few years, there is a growing feeling among Sainiks that decision-making in the party has become more controlled and only a select few close to the Thackerays get to participate in the process. This discomfort became particularly pronounced after the Sena tasted power in 2019, with Uddhav being sworn in as the Chief Minister under the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, the first Thackeray to hold public office. (Bal Thackeray liked to say that he exercised power via remote control). Many have pointed to the Sena’s shrinking presence on the ground since Uddhav became CM as both he and Aaditya barely step out of Mumbai to travel across the length and the breadth of the state.

Older generations of Sena leaders who made the party what it is, lament the lack of attention from the leadership despite the party being in power in the state. While their loyalty towards Sena lies with the chair of the Sena Pramukh- first held by Bal Thackeray and now Uddhav, personally, they sense alienation from the nativist idea of Shiv Sena. The induction of Aaditya Thackeray in 2010 through Yuva Sena and the young breed of Sena leaders who have joined the party since then has only widened the rift between the old and the new Sena. The newer breed consists of young men and women who come from relatively affluent backgrounds and bring in a boardroom-like characteristic to a party whose very essence is street politics and action-oriented campaigns. The prominence given to the young leadership in day-to-day affairs of the party has further created insecurity within old Sena leaders who have been clamouring for greater autonomy and prominence within the party and also publicly. Shinde’s tweet on Tuesday, underlining his loyalty towards Bal Thackeray and his ideas and his contradictory actions prompting a rebellion further highlight this rift within what is now clearly two Senas.

Despite big defections in the past, and the formidable rise of the BJP, the Sena has still not managed to build a mechanism for resolving internal conflicts. Uddhav’s image of not being accessible to all the Sena leaders and workers, and the party’s inability to give a hearing to disgruntled members is exploited politically by the likes of Eknath Shinde. Similarly, shakhas, long regarded as the central nervous system of the Shiv Sena, have been weakened. The poor reach of Sena leadership at the grassroots level has meant that there is no longer sufficient effort in creating a new rung of supporters at the shakha level which were the main venues for communication with rank and file. Like many others, Sena too faces an existential crisis following BJP’s growth. For Uddhav Thackeray there’s a lot more at stake than just losing chief ministership. The all-important BMC elections are only a few months away.

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