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Julio Ribeiro writes: Shiv Sena without a Thackeray at the helm will not be the same

The foot soldiers of the Sena, even after Shinde’s revolt, are with the Thackerays. It is to be seen how they react when the full import of what will happen if the Thackerays cease to head the Sena kicks in

When the Shiv Sena abandoned its decades-old alliance with the BJP to achieve its dream of leading the government in Maharashtra, it joined hands with Sharad Pawar’s NCP and its old bête noire, the Congress, so that Uddhav could become the CM. (Photo: Express/File)

Before he breathed his last, the pater familias of the Shiv Sena, Balasaheb Thackeray, addressed a mammoth meeting at the iconic Shivaji Park in Dadar. He appealed to the multitude of his followers to look after his son, Uddhav, and grandson Aaditya, after his death. It was an emotional appeal that palpably moved the mass of humanity stretched out on the open ground before him.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Supreme Leader wanted Uddhav to be his successor, followed by Aditya. But Uddhav is not Balasaheb. His style of functioning is different: He relies on a coterie of close confidants for advice and execution. But in one core issue, he has been a carbon copy of his father: Uddhav made no bones about his resolve to see his young son, Aaditya, succeed him as the Supreme Leader of the Sena and, of course, chief minister of Maharashtra.

That was his Achilles’ heel. When the Sena abandoned its decades-old alliance with the BJP to achieve its dream of leading the government in Maharashtra, it joined hands with Sharad Pawar’s NCP and its old bête noire, the Congress, so that Uddhav could become the CM. I am not very sure that Uddhav wanted the job. He would have been happy to install his then 28-year-old son as CM but better counsel prevailed, besides the urgings of his new bedfellows, to assume command himself.

Aaditya is a young man with ideas and the right inclinations. But he was in a hurry. If he had started from somewhere near the bottom of the ladder and worked his way up, he would have climbed to the very top in quick time. He had it in him to do so. But he started virtually as the number two in the party and that was bound to upset other leaders. An aspirant for the “gaddi”, Eknath Shinde, was particularly mortified. He bided his time and that time coincided with the plans of the BJP’s master strategist in the state, former CM Devendra Fadnavis, who felt robbed of his rightful entitlement. His party had fought the elections jointly with the Sena. The alliance won, but only, it seemed, to be tricked into subservience by Sharad Pawar. Fadnavis was out for revenge from day one, but his initial attempts failed.

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The ED allegedly became the main instrument to bring Sainiks in line. The very mention of its name was enough to strike fear into the hearts and the minds of the great Shivaji Maharaj’s 21st-century soldiers. Many (or perhaps most) had a skeleton or two to hide from the ED’s gaze. They implored their leader to sever ties with the NCP and Congress and realign with the BJP to avoid the attention of the central investigation agencies. The cognoscenti feel that this is the real reason for the present en masse desertion. That’s possible, even probable.

Another reason is being advanced for the revolt of the Sena legislators. They feel that the NCP and Congress have got all the lucrative portfolios in the cabinet, leaving the crumbs for the Sena. They say Uddhav has compromised on this to occupy the CM’s chair. They also complain that NCP and Congress MLAs get their MLA funds, as well as access to the CM, much quicker than they do. The CM is not easily accessible to them and that affects their standing in their constituencies.

The Sena MLAs are thinking of the next elections to the state assembly. They feel that the NCP and Congress will have stolen a march over them because of the preferential treatment they have enjoyed. All these peeves have been highlighted during their revolt.

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The BJP virtually rode on the Sena’s back to first become relevant in Maharashtra and then to gain ascendancy over the party. When its tally of legislators overtook the Sena’s, the chief minister’s mantle passed on to the saffron party. When Fadnavis was the CM there seemed to be less corruption and better governance. But the dominant Marathas were not happy.

The Shiv Sena’s founding family belongs to the forward Kayastha caste but its followers, almost to a man, belong to the OBC category and are largely from the Konkan region. There is no doubt that Balasaheb’s methods “coaxed” central government agencies like the nationalised banks, the Railways, Air India, and the Airports Authority to employ more Maharashtrians in their offices. That was the secret of the rise of the Sena, mainly in Mumbai.

The foot soldiers of the Sena, even after Shinde’s revolt, are with the Thackerays. They are, currently, reeling from the shock. It is to be seen how they react when the full import of what will happen if the Thackerays cease to head the Sena kicks in. A Sena without a Thackeray at the helm will not be the same. The process of disintegration will begin. The street vendors and a lot of those who operate Mumbai’s underbelly are known to have the blessings of the Thackerays. Many of these young men, hailing from what the Marxists term the “lumpen proletariat”, will be forced to find new moorings.

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Eknath Shinde may not last long as the Sena’s head. There are bound to be other claimants with the same ambition and equal talent. For instance, Narayan Rane, who has joined the BJP, would surely aspire for individual recognition. In short, the churn within the Sena’s rank-and-file is going to be short, but sharp and eventful.

Many of the Sena’s karyakartas could join the BJP, especially if they anticipate the ED proceeding against them. Many more will join the NCP, whose ethos is similar. Ideology is unlikely to be a significant factor in taking sides. They were never guided by Hindutva, as is now being propagated by Eknath Shinde. It is self-interest and the good life that matters to them. They will balance the pros and cons and decide what is best for them. But the Sena, as Balasaheb envisaged it — a medium to channelise the aspirations of lower-middle-class Maharashtrians to middle-class status — may have to be buried if the Thackeray clan is not around.

I grieve for Aaditya Thackeray. He is probably the reason why this revolt is happening. He could have been a good influence on the ordinary Sainiks as his thinking was modern – something most readers and I can relate to.

The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner

First published on: 27-06-2022 at 05:37:24 pm
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