Shiv Sena: In the pale shadow of Bal Thackeray’s legacy

Uddhav Thackeray is not his father but the fact that the BJP is still putting up with all the Shiv Sena is in no small measure owing to the deep roots that Bal Thackeray has struck among the people
Uddhav, given the way the Shiv Sena has waxed and waned on various issues in the past five years, seems like neither fish nor fowl nor even a red herring.(PTI)
Uddhav, given the way the Shiv Sena has waxed and waned on various issues in the past five years, seems like neither fish nor fowl nor even a red herring.(PTI)
Published on Nov 14, 2018 12:02 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

As the sixth anniversary of Bal Thackeray’s passing approaches, it is a wonder that the Shiv Sena is still standing on its feet and his legacy endures in more ways than one.

Of course, the Sena is a shadow of its previous self but that decline had set in long before Thackeray’s death. However, the fact that after kicking the Sena in the teeth a year after Balasaheb’s exit, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should now desperately seek an alliance with a party it had hoped to decimate soon after Thackeray’s demise speaks much about his undying influence on the state’s polity.

Thackeray was an ideological gypsy — he went wherever a sense of victory took him. So while abusing Muslims roundly during municipal elections in the 1970s for their resistance to singing Vande Mataram, Thackeray had no qualms in joining hands with GM Banatwala of the Indian Union Muslim League within days after to enable his party to win the chairmanship of the standing committee when he fell short of a majority. As an ally of the BJP, he broke with the party on more than one occasion to openly benefit the Congress — like when he twice supported the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) presidential candidates, Pratibha Patil in 2007 and Pranab Mukherjee in 2012. But he also placed personal friendship above politics when he forced a BJP candidate to withdraw his nomination to facilitate the election of Supriya Sule, Sharad Pawar’s daughter, unopposed to the Rajya Sabha in 2006. The BJP could only grind its teeth in frustration and grin and bear it.

Uddhav Thackeray is not his father but the fact that the BJP is still putting up with all the shenanigans Shiv Sena is in no small measure owing to the deep roots that Bal Thackeray has struck among the people, which the BJP finds difficult to weed out.

Which is surprising because, despite his charisma and rhetoric, Bal Thackeray was essentially a flip-flop man whose lack of commitment, or even conviction, about his own stated aims and goals should have been visible to all and sundry. For example, when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992, he was quick to claim the credit on behalf of his Shiv Sainiks, knowing full well that not a single Sena leader or worker had been present in Ayodhya on the day of the demolition because they had quarrelled with the BJP the previous day and left in a huff. Only when he thought he could get into trouble with the courts did he withdraw the claim. But he suffered no consequence for that flip-flop, either among the people or with his alliance partner.

However, now as his son and political heir Uddhav plans to storm Ayodhya later this month with a lot of Shiv Sainiks in tow, I wonder if the flogging of an old and tired horse will help the Sena gallop to victory as it did in the 1990s.

Bal Thackeray had benefited from those false claims of demolishing the mosque not once, but twice over. There was a Hindu consolidation behind the Sena but even Muslims in the state decided they were better off making friends with the Shiv Sena than inviting the party’s wrath again.

But that was because then the Congress was no alternative and Gujarat 2002 had not yet happened. Uddhav knows well how his party lost their Muslim vote simply for being in alliance with the BJP. Now I am surprised he should attempt to raise the rhetoric on an issue that even the BJP is afraid of taking up openly.

The Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh (RSS) itself has outsourced the Ram Mandir issue to the sants and seers of Ayodhya while the government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been silent on the Supreme Court’s decision to postpone the hearing to January next year. Then again, Bal Thackeray was comfortable in his skin as a ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ (emperor of Hindu hearts) in the 1990s and today that title is clearly Modi’s. Uddhav, given the way the Shiv Sena has waxed and waned on various issues in the past five years, seems like neither fish nor fowl nor even a red herring. One would have thought he had mastered the art of eating his cake and having it too, being in government and acting as the opposition. But mixing the mandir-masjid issue with the legitimate issues he has taken up in the past could have a boomerang factor he may not have reckoned with so far.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    I wonder if the Sena and the AIMIM know that Bal Thackeray was the first person ever in India to lose his voting rights and that to contest elections for hate speeches he had made during a 1987 byelection to Vile Parle.

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