Whose Sena is it anyway? Thackerays hit the street for dialogue with followers
The ‘Shiv Samvad’ or dialogue with the people is the first of several outreach initiatives planned by the Thackerays to reclaim the party flag, its symbol and the affection of Shiv Sainiks
Uddhav Thackeray may have lost the chief minister’s office but Maharashtrians continue to identify the Shiv Sena with him. They now refer to the party as ‘Uddhav Thackeray chi Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena) while the rebels are identified as ‘Eknath Shinde chi gat’ (Eknath Shinde’s faction); and the Thackerays are doing everything to reclaim the party’s flag, the legacy of Shivaji and the tiger face and the Marathi Manoos—and do everything to retain the party’s bow and arrow symbol it shares with JMM as both are regional parties.
Thackerays are also out to cash in on the Marathi outrage at one of them being humiliated by a Gujarati-dominated BJP. Maharashtrians have harboured a deep distrust of Gujaratis ever since Morarji Desai, former chief minister of undivided Bombay State, ordered firing on protesters that killed 106 of them in Mumbai during the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation in the 1950s. It is a sentiment that precedes the formation of the Shiv Sena in 1966.
The stark contrast between Shiv Sena in office and Shiv Sena in the opposition is known to people in Maharashtra. A rough and tough lot, Shiv Sainiks thrive in the rain and under the Sun, in the rough and tumble outside on the street than in luxury hotel rooms and airconditioned offices. It is this constituency that Aditya Thackeray is setting out to woo in the next few days as he criss-crosses the state to hold ‘Shiv Samvad’, a dialoguewith the people.
Unlike 2019 when Aaditya Thackeray was being groomed for the job of the deputy chief minister under Devendra Fadnavis, no PR agency or event manager has been engaged for the dialogue. The PR agencies had then banished Shiv Sainiks to the back benches because they did not make for a pretty picture, and utilised to arrange chairs. This time the Shiv Sainiks will be in charge and manage the Shiv Samvad.
The Shiv Sena was always more effective in the opposition, fighting the establishment on the streets than it ever was in government. Although Uddhav Thackeray did earn accolades as chief minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Shiv Sainiks in the opposition are a different proposition.
There is little doubt that Shiv Sena is under pressure from the BJP, which, in Sanjay Raut’s words, is out to seize all Shiv sena symbols including the iconic Sena Bhavan in Dadar and Matoshree, from where Bal Thackeray controlled the Shiv Sena for over five decades. But indications are that the Thackerays are closing ranks and preparing to fight back. Even Devendra Fadnavis, recognising that Thackerays are inseparable from the Sena, is said to have called on Raj Thackeray to allow his son Amit to join the Shinde ministry. The grapevine holds that the offer was politely declined.
Chhagan Bhujbal, a former Shiv Sainik,revels in recalling the story of how the Shiv Sena standard or flag evolved. While yards and yards of saffron polyester were provided to the Shiv Sena shakhas, few had any clue what to do with them. Young men clumsily cut out triangles out of shape with not much room for printing on the fabric. Several bolts were wasted before they realised what was wrong.
Bal Thackeray had wanted a flag akin to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s Bhagwa Dhwaj with a perfect equilateral in the reverse, leaving the ‘V’ to flap in the wind and a brown-black strip on the flag post.It was quite beyond the Shiv Sainiks. So, Bhujbal claimed, he sat down with them and managed to cut out a swallow-tail in the square piece of fabric.
It was kept simple so as not to confuse the boys. There was no brown-black strip and required no sewing or dyeing. It was a pure saffron flag, at times printed with a tiger face for emphasis and printed with the symbol (bow and arrow) during election campaigns. Bal Thackeray wanted no avoid accusations of sacrilege and called the party flag simply as “Aapla Bhagwa (our saffron)” or just “Bhagwa”, avoiding the grandiose “dhwaj” to distinguish his party flag.
When Raj Thackeray split from the Shiv Sena, he opted for saffron, white, blue and green strips on his party flag to represent all communities, including Muslims and Dalits. But this did not quite work with the Sena offshoot, so he recently changed his party standard to the colours of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s flag.
It is still a rectangular piece of fabric without the cut-out triangle and the black-brown strip at the bottom. However, it is the Shiv Sena’s Bhagwa which has struck deep roots among Shiv Sainiks.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)