Identity Politics And The Shiv Sena

Posted on February 13, 2013 in Politics

By Somay Munde:

The political atmosphere in the mid-1960s in India was a turbulent one. The euphoria of hard-fought independence had died a gradual death and was becoming a distant memory. People had waited eagerly for increase in the opportunities and livelihood; the much awaited promises of congress which had till then thrived mostly on its glorious past were yet to be fulfilled. Adding to the woes was the burden brought on the Indian exchequer by the two hard fought wars with China and Pakistan. The lower middle class youth bore the brunt of stagflation in the economy. The licence raj implemented keeping in mind the socialistic ideals of the founders had curbed the entrepreneurial spirit of the educated youth. The ruling party had suffered the twin blow from the recent deaths of Lal Bahadur Shashtri and Jawaharlal Nehru. The incumbent PM, Indira Gandhi was yet to fully take over the reins of Indian National Congress. Since 1953, the demand for linguistic division of the country had been on gradual rise and had taken militant form in the late 1950s. The death of Potti Sreeramulu had hastened the formation of Andhra Pradesh. This later culminated in the formation of states on the linguistic basis according to States Reorganization act of 1956. It was during this period that identity politics started emerging as the competitor to the hegemony of congress, CPI and Hindu right wing parties.  The erosion of moral high ground of congress through leadership in post-Nehru administration and rampant corruption coupled with the aforementioned problems faced by the political situation in India indeed helped the inclination of common man in seeking relief in the identity based politics. Several linguistic parties emerged in the various parts of the republic like DMK in Tamil Nadu, Akali Dali in Punjab, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and later TDP in Andhra Pradesh. These political parties thrived on linguistic, religious and ethnic sentiments of the people.

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India, being a land of diverse and complex citizenry, has plenty space for regional and identity politics as proved by the successes of regional parties over the last 40 odd years. One single ideology or political party simply cannot represent the aspirations of citizens of this multi-religious, multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic state which still struggles with religious extremism and caste based discrimination. The identity politics has been both a blessing and bane for its constituents and to the Indian democracy as a whole. Politics targeting a specific group has proved detrimental to the hegemony of pan-India parties. It fulfils role of keeping check on the bigger parties and at same time catering to the ambitions of the local population. It not only makes the political class more accountable, but also provides an ideological alternative other than the conventional options (Right-Left, Liberal-Extremist).  

The role played by regional parties in developmental transformation of their respective regions proves that regional and identity parties have strived not only to satisfy the demand of local population but also bring about development in social and economic situation of the whole state and not just identities associated with it. The success of TDP under Chandrababu Naidu in converting AP into an IT hub of International repute, recent surge of Gujarat under Narendra Modi, Tamil Nadu under DMK are a few examples of the regional parties which have proved successful alternatives to all-India parties. Having emphasized the importance of regional and identity politics for representing the diversity of its citizenry, it has time and again been deleterious to atmosphere of unity and fraternity. It has threatened to tear apart the fabric of such a diverse society. There is a very thin line between identity politics and separatism, both of which are based on the same fundamentals albeit with different objective. Identity politics breeds competitiveness, a sense of belonging to the people and can work well within the principles of statehood laid down by our founding fathers. Identity politics works toward the welfare of people who share a common connection. In principle, it does not in any way undermine the importance of other social groups. The onus falls on the political leaders on how they wish to exploit the sentiments of a common man.

Thackerey, Shiv Sena and their relevance is a prime example of importance of a responsible political leader is Balasaheb Keshav Thackerey. The semblance of other regional parties of the time and Shiv Sena ends with the initial struggle to form a mass following. It was the same atmosphere of 1960s that the Shiv Sena came into being. Maharashtra was then a newly formed state carved out of erstwhile Bombay presidency dividing it into Maharashtra and Gujarat achieved through continuous struggle by Samyukta Maharashtra Movement. The SMM, having completed their objective ceased to be of much relevance. The stage was set for political front which would represent the interests of Marathi Manoos. Balasaheb Thackerey rightly gauged the sense of frustration in the educated non-unionised youth. The CPI had a firm control over the trade unions in Bombay ever since the time of independence struggle. The unfortunate murder of CPI MLA of Parel constituency by Shiv Sainiks and victory of Wamanrao Mahadhik (SS’s first MLA) from Parel marked the start of violent politics that continues to date.

Thackerey struck a chord with the unemployed educated youth of Maharashtra with his inflammatory rhetoric and ethnocentric speeches. He came across as a direct, unflinching leader who did not mince words when it came to politics unlike other political leaders who hid behind political correctness. There is certainly no point commenting on his ideology or means to achieve its end, but what cannot be discounted is the fact that Thackerey was a man of great political acumen who perfected the art of holding the crowd in his sway. He was a great strategist and political innovator who kept his opposition guessing about his next move.

What was and what could have been – Viable alternative?

Nevertheless, a man of that calibre could certainly have served his beloved mother land in a manner befitting his nickname “tiger”. Thackerey’s politics mainly revolved around instigating the sentiment of vulnerable with meaningless solutions that he offered, devoid of any social or economic vision or planning. He created a valve for frustrated youth of this state to let out all the anger within, but in the process he showed scant regard for any constitutional authority or principle. Shiv Sena being concerned with the sole aim of upliftment of Marathi Manoos rarely looked beyond the major cities of Maharashtra. It was in the remote villages of Vidharbha and Marathwada that the Marathi Manoos toiled in the barren land and eventually consumed pesticide to end their miserable lives. Yes, the Shiv Sena-BJP govt. in Maharashtra in 1995 indeed brought about major developmental changes in the cities of Pune and Mumbai, but it rarely looked beyond that.

Rather than the developing separatist tendencies among his subjects, Thackerey could have exhorted them to toil hard. The theory of “bhumiputra” that Shiv Sena vehemently pursues flies right in the face of the very foundations of our democracy. There have been numerous leaders and political outfits that are intolerant to the regional minority and have still strived to bring about major positive transformation in their constituency. The triumph of identity parties in other parts of India have managed to achieve cogent accommodation of interest of local identity population while effective a permanent change in lives of not only those identity group, but the entire population they stand answerable to.  Thackerey, in spite of commanding huge loyal followers failed to achieve any significant long term changes in Maharashtra. Even Hitler, whom Thackerey admires greatly, managed to pull Germany out of the Great Depression and transformed Germany into a formidable state. He failed to realize and grasp the interest of Marathi people who lived outside Mumbai and other major cities. His near obsession with Mumbai almost blinded him to the hardships and need to grass-root change in rural agrarian Maharashtra. The challenge for MNS and Shiv Sena would to shake of their image of a political party which concerned itself mainly with ousting non-Maharashtrians and transform into an identity which would bring about sustainable social, economic and political upliftment of Marathi citizens bringing about positive change in Maharashtra which is strife with numerous problems.

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