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Symbol Row: Uddhav Thackeray Group of Shiv Sena Wrests the Initiative

Trishul, rising sun or mashaal, in the age of electronic and social media, a new name and symbol may not be as major a handicap for political parties these days

Uddhav Thackeray
Uddhav Thackeray
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Sujata Anandan

The Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena, being first off the blocks in informing the Election Commission on Sunday of its preferences for a new party name and symbol—the Shinde faction was to meet later on Sunday to take a call—appears to have wrested the initiative.

Having anticipated the possibility of the ECI freezing the name and the symbol, the Thackeray group or faction moved fast, informing the Election Commission of its choice almost 24 hours before the deadline on Monday.

But while the Election Commission’s order on Saturday evening, freezing the Shiv Sena name and symbol ahead of the Andheri byelection early next month, was half-expected, it did upset a large number of Shiv Sainiks.

The ECI might not have had any option other than to freeze the bow and arrow symbol, given that the majority of MPs and MLA are with the Shinde group while Uddhav appeared to have the support of more Shiv Sainiks. There was no way to determine the rightful Shiv Sena between the two without an electoral test of strength.

That too is working out to the advantage of the Uddhav Thackeray faction. With the Shinde Group not contesting the Andheri byelection and with the Uddhav Thackeray group widely expected to win, the victory, with a new name and symbol, will strengthen its claim to the legacy of the party founded by Balasaheb Thackeray.

Political observers in the state recall that when Sharad Pawar split the Congress – known officially as the Indian National Congress – he had then believed, not unlike Shinde, that he had the majority of supporters and he would soon have complete hold of the INC. However, that did not quite happen as, much like what is happening now with Uddhav Thackeray, a majority of supporters on the ground rallied round Sonia Gandhi and it was obvious Pawar did not have that support.

So, when he wanted to name his party the “Indian Nationalist Congress", in a move as smart-alecky as Shinde calling his faction the Shiv Sena Bal Thackeray Party, the EC asked Pawar to rename his party in a sufficiently different manner so as not to confuse voters with "INC" on ballot papers.

He had to reluctantly rename his party by juggling around the words and call it the Nationalist Congress Party of India - NCP for short.

Pawar had also initially sought the symbol of the charkha or a wheel, slightly different from the Ashoka Chakra. That too was turned down by the EC on grounds of potential to confuse voters. Pawar, willy-nilly, had to settle for something that resembled the wheel closest - the clock.

In the EC list it was set at ten minutes past ten and to educate voters, the NCP held a press conference holding up several alarm clocks and winding it up to that particular hour and minute – the presence of tens of television cameras did the trick in conveying the symbol to fans of Sharad Pawar.

However, in the era of electronic media and social media, Shiv Sainiks in the Thackeray group seem confident that they will be able to popularise the new name and symbol of the party before the Andheri byelection. With both the Congress and NCP having officially offered support, they believe Uddhav will get the better of BJP, which is contesting the election.

The unanswered question that, however, is – what after that? Will Uddhav have to stay with the new name and symbol or will he have the opportunity to reclaim the old name and symbol?

The Shinde group, which had welcomed the freeze on the name and the symbol on Saturday, has less reason on Sunday to celebrate. The Dussehra rally in Mumbai by both the factions on October 5 proved Shinde does not have the spontaneity, extempore skills and charisma of Uddhav Thackeray.

The Marathi social media has taken to describing him as a balloon gassed up by the BJP that could soon run out of air. Another indication of Uddhav Thackeray’s support base was seen on October 5, when Shiv Sainiks from Mumbai voluntarily gathered at Shivaji Park while Shinde had to ferry his supporters from outside the city.

As Vijay Waddetiwar, a former Congress minister who had defected from the Shiv Sena, said, “The name Shiv Sena and the bow and arrow symbol are associated with half a century of ‘sangharsh' (grassroots fight) that Shiv Sainiks have done to keep the ideology of Bal Thackeray alive and thriving. I was also part of it for a while. We will never forgive this attempt to destroy Bal Thackeray's sweat and blood.”

He is no longer a Shiv Sainik but his sentiment cuts across party lines. It is not going to be easy for Shinde because of the opposition of the Marathi Manoos like Waddetiwar. On the other hand, Uddhav Thackeray will have to overcome institutional resistance.

The initial reaction of the masses at the grassroots against the EC decision to freeze the Shiv Sena name and the symbol,  might again be an eyeopener to those who want to destroy the Shiv Sena.

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