Shinde–BJP target Uddhav Thackeray for associating with Congress at I.N.D.I.A. meet
Old-timers say chief minister does not know his own party's history
As the Indian Nationalist Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) leaders got into a huddle on the evening of Thursday, 31 August, to crack a seat sharing formula, outside the venue of the meet, a poster war seemed to have broken out across the city.
The Shiv Sena (UBT), tasked with the logistics of the meet, had put up posters of the INDIA bloc with the slogan Judega Bharat, Jeetega INDIA (India will heal/unite, INDIA will win).
The rival party, led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, was not to be left behind. He came up with his own posters prominently displaying Bal Thackeray's pictures, citing him saying, “I will never allowing my Shiv Sena to become a Congress.”
Old-time Shiv Sainiks and Congress cadres laughed off those posters, saying Shinde was displaying his ignorance and should have been conversant with his own party’s history.
The Shiv Sena was set up with the support of stalwart Indian National Congress leaders in the 1960s, to combat the growing influence of the trade unions affiliated to the Communist Party among Maharashtra's mill workers.
In this, Balasaheb Thackeray was totally funded and supported by the Congress and, in return, he not only set up a rival trade union among mill workers — the Kamgar Sena — but in the 1967 election, demolished the left of centre parties in Mumbai who had come together to support the candidature of VK Krishna Menon, a former Congressman.
Menon was blamed by even Congressmen of the time for India’s debacle in the war with China, but continued to find the support of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who accepted the blame for Menon’s mistakes and stood by his defence minister.
However, after Nehru died, Congress members in Mumbai cut Menon off, and it was Bal Thackeray’s support to the Congress candidate that year that saw both Menon defeated and the left parties, who were growing and proving a threat to the Congress, banished to the margins of electoral politics in the city.
More recent history that Shinde should be conversant about the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena's support for not just the Emergency in 1975, but also for Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee at the presidential elections of 2007 and 2012, respectively.
It was also Uddhav Thackeray who bullied the BJP into withdrawing its surplus Rajya Sabha candidate to favour the maiden victory of Supriya Sule, Sharad Pawar’s daughter, that got her into Parliament in 2007 — she was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha as a result, with Thackeray’s blessings.
Said one Sena old-timer, “Actually, Balasaheb (Thackeray) was always more comfortable with the Congress than he ever was with the BJP. He preferred a Congress government at the Centre and a Sena government in the state because he knew the Congress leaders were more respectful of him, despite their differing ideologies. The BJP was always arrogant and in later years took him for granted. That is why he voted for the Congress at the last two presidential elections of his lifetime.”
Since Uddhav Thackeray took over his father’s party, he has worked hard to mainstream the Shiv Sena. His recent statement, “I am not the kind of Hindu who feels great killing Muslims”, has shifted the red carpet further out from under the feet of Shinde and the BJP, because of the kind of polarisation they have been fomenting in the state. This very strategy could now drive Muslims into Uddhav Thackeray’s arms without guilt or discomfort.
So as he hosted a dinner for the delegates, Uddhav Thackeray was quite comfortable with their secular agenda — a common minimum programme that will address issues of poverty, unemployment and problems of farmers, saving the Constitution and democracy, all aimed at defeating the BJP, as resolved by the leaders on Thursday night.
According to sources, the INDIA bloc leaders are determined to not just seek a convenor — though most of them said they were in no hurry — but may also set up a working core committee, as it may not be possible to frequently hold such large meetings closer to the Lok Sabha polls. Particularly as more parties are expected to join the INDIA ranks, the logistics would become increasingly difficult to manage.
While yesterday’s was an informal gathering, the formal sessions are being held from Friday morning, 1 September, and will end with the unveiling of a common logo at a press conference late today afternoon.