Uddhav’s tightrope walk
After the government denied Shiv Sena the permission to hold its annual Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park, Uddhav has declared that the event will be held as usual on October 5 at the same place
Uddhav Thackeray appears to be on a collision course with the BJP and his party’s breakaway faction which are in power now. After the government denied Shiv Sena the permission to hold its annual Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park, Uddhav Thackeray has declared that the event will be held as usual on October 5 at the same place.
While political rallies at Shivaji Park had been discontinued following orders of the Bombay High Court, the administration used to give special permission for the rally in the past. With the change of government and especially with the Shiv Sena’s rival faction being in power, the special permission is understandably not forthcoming this year for Thackeray’s Sena. Nevertheless, Uddhav has activated his cadres to ensure that Shiv Sainiks turn up for the rally.
What will the police do? Are clashes inevitable? If so, who will such clashes benefit politically? The Dussehra rallies in the past were utilised to fulminate against Muslims and north Indians. What will be the thrust this year? While a weakened Uddhav Thackeray’s desire to make it a show of strength is obvious, can he really afford to give up the image of a more sober and responsible leader?
As chief minister he won over even one-time critics by his restraint and sense of responsibility. He apologised in the Assembly for mixing religion with politics; and it was clear that he was trying to steer the Shiv Sena away from the earlier rabble rousing for which it was known.
There is also growing evidence that a weakened Thackeray is seeking ways to rediscover his connect with Hindutva. The past few weeks have witnessed various groups of people associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal making a beeline to Matoshree and joining the Shiv Sena, and Thackeray introducing them to the media at brief press conferences. Could he be trying to respond to the rebel Shiv Sainiks’ and Eknath Shinde’s allegation that he had moved away from Hindutva?
To be fair, Thackeray has always claimed that the brand of Hindutva practised by the BJP was flawed and misplaced; that Matoshree was the centre of Hindutva and his interpretation of Hindutva was what Shiv Sena stood for.
Eyebrows were however raised when Uddhav Thackeray announced this week a formal alliance with Sambhaji Brigade. The group has been a pain on the sides of both BJP and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in order to appropriate Shivaji Maharaj, Maharashtra’s iconic warrior king.
It was the Sambhaji Brigade that had stormed into the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute and vandalised it, destroying precious artefacts, for hosting American scholar and author James Laine who wrote a book titled ‘Shivaji, a Hindu King in Muslim India’. The Brigade took offence at Laine dwelling on the Brahmanisation under Shivaji.
Both BJP and NCP have been trying surreptitiously to get Sambhaji Brigade on their side, with both the parties keen to minimise the dent that the militant group could make into the ‘Marathi Asmita’ votes in the state. Both have been taken aback at the alliance of the group with Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, and it has rung alarm bells for both the BJP and the Shinde faction of Shiv Sena. While the Sambhaji Brigade is not a major political force, it claims to be the torch bearer of Marathi pride. On August 31, Uddhav Thackeray also announced an alliance with the Maratha Seva Sangh that works to integrate all OBCs under one umbrella, thus tying up large chunks of non-Hindutvawadi population under his banner.
Political analysts believe that Uddhav Thackeray will find it extremely difficult to swing back to aggressive Hindutva-- which is now the BJP’s turf-- without losing his credibility. But he might be tempted to unleash the new entrants to show some aggression. He could also be trying to compensate for the departure of the legislators.
Both VHP and Bajrang Dal have lately realised that the Modi-Shah duo has no use for their skills any longer, relying on central agencies instead to combat and cow down rivals. Analysts also point to Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh shutting down his Hindu Yuva Vahini, discarding it in favour of police and bulldozers.
Uddhav Thackeray, analysts say, will not risk losing the goodwill he earned as the chief minister. But aware of the restlessness among the Shiv Sainiks, he is possibly trying to strike a balance between lumpen elements-- who remain the core Sena supporters-- and people in high-rises who would rather vote for the BJP or the Congress.
The Maharashtrian middle class however never appreciated the unsavoury image of them painted over the years by Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and Uddhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray. While they are likely to rally around Uddhav, it is clearly a tightrope walk for him ahead of the next round of elections