The ascent to office in the company of the NCP and Congress seems to be forcing the Shiv Sena to rethink some of its core ideals. Recently, party chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray, responding to a taunt from BJP leader and former CM, Devendra Fadnavis, said in the legislative assembly that the Sena “probably made a mistake by mixing politics and religion” and “took a hit for it”. This is a major departure for the Sena, which had embraced Hindutva as its ideological compass in the 1990s.
As Thackeray has explained, Hindutva was the ground on which the Sena and BJP built an alliance that lasted for nearly three decades. It is too early to say that Thackeray and the Sena have taken a step towards abandoning Hindutva, but his remarks do suggest that the compulsions of heading a “secular” coalition government have forced a churn in the party. The first sign was when the party agreed to a common minimum programme, the preface of which states that the alliance is committed to “uphold the secular values enshrined in the Constitution”. The Sena’s position on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) also shifted even as the bill was debated in Parliament — its MPs voted in favour of CAB in the Lok Sabha but walked out when the bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. Thackeray was unambiguous, however, in condemning police action on the anti-CAA protests in Jamia Millia Islamia — he compared it to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Sena leaders stayed away from the anti-CAA mobilisations in Maharashtra, but it could be said that the massive rallies were peaceful also because of the party’s tacit support.
The contradictions in Thackeray’s attempt to balance coalition compulsions with the long-held beliefs of cadres will surely soon come to the fore. His challenge as a leader, moreover, is not restricted to the ideological sphere. He will need to instill in the Sena cadres the values of a constitutional democracy, which include accepting the restraints of the rule of law, and allowing political rivals to express their views. The recent incident of Sena workers tonsuring the head of a BJP supporter in Mumbai for a social media post lampooning Thackeray is a reminder of the party’s disgraceful legacy of physically targeting its critics.
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