Clowning around with the Shiv Sena
Soon after the presentation of the Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation bill in the Rajya Sabha when Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut waxed eloquent about how it was Kashmir today and would be Pakistan and Akhand Bharat tomorrow, he may not have realised how he would set himself up for ridicule.
After his vegetarian chicken gaffe, social media went hammer and tongs at him and his party. They pointed out towards ‘Mungerilal ke haseen sapne’ at a time when after more than two decades in power, the Shiv Sena could not even conquer the roads of Bombay and fix the potholes and floodings during monsoon. From what even a lot of Maharashtrians said in their posts, it was obvious the Shiv Sena’s base even among the sections they purport to represent is slipping and the party leaders could be seriously out of touch with reality.
For the past few weeks, there has been much conflict not just between the Shiv Sena and the BJP but also the old Shiv Sena and the new, as the Thackerays try to position young Aaditya as a future chief minister. They have hired a PR agency to build up his brand and that is bewildering many old-time Shiv Sainiks who have a style that is more rooted to the ground.
In Nashik, a couple of weeks ago, as Aaditya prepared to address the masses during his Jan Aashirwad Yatra across Maharashtra, there was even a clash between his PR men and Shiv Sainiks who had printed and put up posters with their photographs, as is the convention, alongside Aaditya’s at the venue of his address to the people. The PR agency apparently did not want the dilution of Aaditya’s brand by other photographs crowding the posters and had them pulled down. That upset the Shiv Sainiks who, in turn, were kept off the stage and shooed away by the agency which had got Aaditya to stand on a chair while addressing the crowds so that people in the back rows too could see him quite clearly (what happened to CCTVs, I wondered – or was that too much of an expense?). Shiv Sainiks were heard not only sniggering but also grumbling that they were not there merely to lift the chairs and arrange the red carpet.
Now this building up of Brand Aaditya led to a poster war with the BJP in some interior areas – their posters stated only the BJP would get the office of the chief minister and at one point even Devendra Fadnavis avowed he was returning as chief minister after the assembly elections due in a few weeks, leading Aaditya to issue a disclaimer – he was not building his political career through the yatra. Which led many Shiv Sainiks to question what he was doing in the yatra if he was not?
All of this only goes to prove how disconnected the Shiv Sena has become with its core bases. Bal Thackeray never needed a PR agency to connect with the masses and he built up his own brand without even posters or yatras. Aaditya, of course, has been emerging a well-styled, suave and sophisticated young English-speaking politician among the city‘s bold and beautiful. But is that where the Shiv Sena’s core voters lie?
The last election which the Shiv Sena fought alone against the BJP - the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections in 2017 - showed the elite areas of town, despite the attempt to charm them, continued to opt for the BJP or even the Congress and gave the Sena a wide berth. Yet, today aspirations have grown even among the youth of Sena’s core voter base in the slums and chawls of the city – they all want to be like Aaditya but do not necessarily see him as their route to success.
I have insisted for long that the Shiv Sena needed to reinvent itself swiftly into modern 21st t century terms in order to survive into the future. Instead, they are stuck into issues like Hindutva and Akhand Bharat which the BJP can milk far better, there is heavy competition in the regional space from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and whenever Uddhav Thackeray does take-up bread-and-butter issues, he demands compensation for rabi crops instead of kharif and has no clue that parati and kaapus are one and the same thing (rather like ruiee and kapaas for cotton).
That mix-up too had brought a lot of ridicule on the Sena last month. The party continues to clown around undeterred.