Shiv Sena wants all hands on deck; allies with Sambhaji brigade
Mumbai: Desperate times call for desperate measures
Mumbai: Desperate times call for desperate measures. After a vertical split in its ranks, the Shiv Sena has chosen to bury the hatchet and ally with the Sambhaji Brigade. An announcement to this effect was made by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in presence of leaders of Sambhaji Brigade.
The Sambhaji Brigade is an organization of Maratha youth and is the youth wing of the Maratha Seva Sangh (MSS) launched by former public works department (PWD) engineer Purushottam Khedekar. It shot into the limelight in 2004 after its activists attacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune to protest the defamatory writings of American author James Laine against warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his mother Rajmata Jijabai.
Shiv Sena and the Brigade -- known for being rabidly anti-Brahmin -- have had bitter differences in the past over issues like the writings of historian Babasaheb Purandare, the veneration of ‘Swatantryaveer’ Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and the portrait of late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray being larger than the bust of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar.
“The Shiv Sena and Sambhaji Brigade have come together in the interests of Maharashtra,” said Manoj Akhare, president, Sambhaji Brigade. Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray welcomed his new “militant associates,” but gave an inkling of the contradictions inherent in the alliance.
“Words (like) purogami (progressive, the term by which organisations like the Brigade refer to themselves), are difficult. Our positions like Hindutva and (the stance in favour of) Maharashtra are obvious,” admitted Thackeray.
The Sena enjoys bulk of support in the other backward classes (OBCs), who are at odds with the Marathas in control of local power structures and their demand for quotas.
In 2012, Sambhaji Brigade activists pulled down the statue of ‘Waghya,’ believed to be Shivaji Maharaj’s dog from his samadhi at the Raigad fort, claiming it was installed due to Brahmanical influences. Then, the Sena stood against the Brigade. A cartoon about the morchas by the Marathas seeking quotas that was carried in the Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ in 2016 also irked the Brigade.
In mid-2000, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was believed to have promoted the Brigade to counter Sena as they employed similar iconography and had the same social catchment — rural youth brimming with anti-establishment rage. More importantly, while the Sena flaunts its Hindutva credentials, followers of MSS do not consider themselves Hindus. They formed a new religion called ‘Shivadharma’ in 2005.
When questioned about the differences between the two organisations on issues like Purandare’s writings, Thackeray pointed to how the Sena had managed to run a coalition with the Congress for two-and-half years. “Like differences of opinion, commonality of opinions is also important,” he stressed. Replying to queries about the Sambhaji Brigade’s attacks on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Thackeray questioned if the present leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) abided by the Sangh’s ideology.
“The Sambhaji Brigade joining hands with the Shiv Sena is laughable as they have massive differences of opinion. In 2005, the MSS launched ‘Shivadharma’ as a religion distinct from the exploitative influence of Hinduism, while the Shiv Sena propagates hardline Hindutva. The Shiv Sena claims credit for demolishing the Babri Masjid, while the Brigade refuses to venerate Lord Ram. This is a strange alliance,” reasoned a former Brigade cadre, calling it a zero-sum game.
“There is no untouchability in politics. The Sambhaji Brigade is a political party. It is fighting against a Manuwadi party like the BJP… the Shiv Sena too is opposing it. They have joined hands since the political and ideological opponent of the two is the same,” said Shiv Sena deputy leader and spokesperson Sushma Andhare.
Reacting to this development, Naresh Mhaske, spokesperson of the group led by chief minister Eknath Shinde, attacked Sena for abandoning its principles for the sake of politics.
“One may have differences on social and cultural issues while being a political alliance,” said Purushottam Khedekar, while admitting that they had also explored the possibility of an alliance with the BJP.
Khedekar is also said to have taken a leaf from the RSS’s book by launching 32 frontal organisations of the MSS like the Sambhaji Brigade and cells for co-operation, agriculture, literature and education.