The meltdown begins
Poignancy over the death of Balasaheb Thackeray is now slowly fading and hard reality has begun to dawn on the political class in Maharashtra.
The Shiv Sena was never a formal political party with a specific and well-defined ideology. The Sena thrived on spontaneity. Indeed, it was formed with the tremendous energy of that spontaneity expressed in a massive rally in 1966. That energy was positive as well as negative — the positive element was hope for Maharashtra and Marathi manoos as well as his anger which provided the charge; the negative character of that anger was frustration and a misplaced inferiority complex. But the Shiv Sena never made it clear as to how it would shape Maharashtra’s economy, how it would reform agriculture, or what its industrial policy was.
Initially, it did not even issue manifestos, saying manifestos were a “pack of lies”. Though later the Sena did start issuing a manifesto (called Vachan Nama), it was never clear what the party stood for or how it would achieve the objectives stated in its manifesto.
Balasaheb used to say that he stood for Hinduism, but he never explained what was his Hinduism or his Hindutva politics. He used to emphasise that his Hinduism was different from that of the BJP and even the RSS. He even used to say that his association with the BJP was merely pragmatic, a means to getting the numbers to form the government. He did not subscribe to most of their programmes, policies or plans. On crucial occasions he took an independent line and embarrassed the BJP high command. On the eve of 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Balasaheb declared that he would support Sharad Pawar for prime ministership, when the BJP’s candidate was L.K. Advani! He did not mind, he said, if the alliance breaks on such issues.
None of these issues were ideological in nature, or even political. The party (rightly) believed that it had followers with passion, faith and devotion towards Balasaheb. This passion, faith and devotion was hugely manifested in the funeral procession, which must have stunned Balasaheb’s supporters and critics equally.
After the collapse of the colossus, a quake is inevitable.
If the Shiv Sena did not have an ideology or a programme for the past 46 years, it is difficult to believe that Uddhav Thackeray and his 23-year-old son Aditya will evolve one now. Though he is the heir of the property, Uddhav has not inherited Balasaheb’s charisma. Without charisma and mass following, it would be difficult for Uddhav to sustain the party.
The shakhas of the Shiv Sena are not like the shakhas of the RSS. The RSS has an ideology, has cadre, has well-defined hierarchy with pracharaks, sanghataks, karyakartas and so on. Over the years the RSS has also created a huge front in the private and public sector officers’ ranks. They also have a network in the military and bureaucracy, and “sleeper cells” in the media. They have a number of front organisations — banks, schools, cultural organisations, “Vanvasi Kalyan Kendras”, trade unions, semi-religious outfits — whose heads and executive bodies are cleared by the RSS. The Shiv Sena has its supporters in various fields and at various levels, but they are disparate, unconnected with each other and without a central command. A party born of populism and spontaneity cannot survive too long without its charismatic leader.
From the Shiv Sena’s point of view, it is unfortunate that Balasaheb died just two years before the 2014 Assembly elections.
The first major rebellion the Shiv Sena suffered was from Chhagan Bhujbal over 20 years ago, though Bhujbal could not really split the party. The second major blow came in 2005, when Narayan Rane broke ranks. But he too was careful. He never attacked Balasaheb. He targeted only Uddhav, for lack of leadership, for lack of comprehension of issues, for insensitivity towards supporters and activists. Within a few months, Raj Thackeray raised a banner of revolt, almost with the same issues as Rane. But the rebellion by Raj was a kind of vajraghat, a real blow to the sanctum sanctorum. Raj criticised Balasaheb, but only indirectly, for showing faith in his son rather than his nephew.
Raj may not have succeeded in capturing the Mumbai Corporation or even keeping the Shiv Sena out, but his success in the heart of the Shiv Sena bastion, Dadar, stunned all. Many shakhapramukhs, corporators and even MLAs had begun to whisper that if and when Balasaheb passes away, they would not continue with the Sena. Quite a few of them had begun to contact Raj. But Raj was upset that they wanted to continue in Sena and only “reserve” or
“fix deposit” their future with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). So it is not going to be easy for all the disgruntled sainiks, or “padadhikaris”, i.e. the office bearers, to quit the Sena and walk over to the MNS.
Raj will be choosy and cautious. He has always maintained that those who look for greener pastures will always be in search and hence are not trustworthy. But at the third and fourth ranks, Shiv Sainiks will simply start walking away because they feel orphaned now.
The Shiv Sena is a party that’s not systematically organised by senior activists, office bearers or elected representatives. Balasaheb himself used to describe them as the “beneficiaries”, as the “private placement stake holders” or simply as opportunists. He would openly admonish them or even directly warn them in the Shivaji Park rallies. He was contemptuous of them, distrusted them and yet was helpless without them.
The activists in the lower ranks who were forced to work for such self-styled leaders, who were just “beneficiaries”, will revolt not against Uddhav but these local satraps. That is where the first spark of rebellion will flare up. The process of disintegration then will lead to a haemorrhage of sorts which could lead to
the collapse of the immune system, leading to multiple organ failure.
A kind of meltdown is inevitable. Some will, of course, remain with the main organisation and try to use Balasaheb’s image and continue. Some will cross over to the MNS, others will try to make deals with the Nationalist Congress Party, some will go to the Congress, more as a sort of refuge. The inevitable disintegration of the Sena will determine the contours of the alliances in the 2014 election, for Lok Sabha first, and then Assembly.
The writer is a senior journalist and the editor of Dainik Divya Marathi