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Identity Politics And The Shiv Sena

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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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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