Uddhav’s gentle Hindutva is challenged by Shiv Sena Hardliners

By Kalyani Shankar

Is the ongoing political crisis in Maharashtra an ideological struggle within the Shiv Sena or the inability of Maharashtra Prime Minister Uddhav Thackeray to convince his Sainiks of his soft Hindutva? Or is it the ambition of the BJP to eliminate all non-BJP governments, or is it for the reallocation of political forces? It might be a combination of everything.

When Uddhav headed the MVA coalition government in 2019, the dubious Thomases was busy speculating how long his reign would last. This was due to the heterogeneous nature of the coalition. True to their prediction, Uddhav has faced crisis after crisis for the past three years. Now it has come to a head.

The party faces a vertical split in a rapidly evolving drama unless there is a reshuffle of political forces or the two warring parties come together. There is also the danger of the MVA coalition government collapsing.

Uddhav woke up on June 21 to hear about the brewing revolt within his party, led by his cabinet colleague Eknath Shinde. Shinde wasn’t alone either, having mobilized some 30 rebel lawmakers. He now claims that this list has affected 50 lawmakers, including independents. Chances are the governor will call for a floor test before July 11. The Supreme Court will hear the rebel lawmaker’s disqualification issue on July 12.

Over the past three years, Uddhav has become one of the prominent opposition leaders, aligning himself with powerful prime ministers such as Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) and MK Stalin of Tamil Nadu.

Ironically, the current problem does not come from the allies, but from within Shiv Sena. In an emotional speech he recently said: “The sad thing for me is that my people (Shiv Sainiks) have lost faith in me.”

Ignoring the insurgency within the party that was brewing for some time, Uddhav kept himself in beautiful isolation, dealing with Covid aid and opposition politics at the national level. He didn’t realize that keeping his flock together should have been his priority.

The Shiv Sena and its long-standing partner BJP fought together against the 2019 polls. The BJP won 106 seats; the Shiv Sena took only 56. Together they would have comfortably formed the government in the Assembly with 288 seats. But then the Sena wanted the post of Chief Minister to be shared as discussed before the polls between the partners, but the BJP rejected it. Sena has become the junior partner over the past decade rather than the other way around.

It was not the first time the Sena has faced rebellion, as three uprisings took place overseen by the charismatic founder Balasaheb Thackeray. He was an enchanting personality, daring, smoked pipes, wore sunglasses and saffron clothes and even drank his favorite drink, beer. He was respected by a few, but feared by all. Even the pop king, Michael Jackson, posed with Thackeray and got permission for his solo concert in India. His ability to create mass hysteria gave him a larger-than-life image, although he never contested or held on to power. Balasaheb, a master orator, took his party to power in 1995 and joined the BJP in the 1990s, which lasted until 2018. He anointed his son Uddhav as working president in 2003 against his cousin Raj Thackeray. Uddhav now sees the fourth uprising.

But his main miscalculation was that he took his Sainiks for granted. He failed to sell his brand of soft Hindutva or the controversial nature of his coalition or alliance with Congress. He should also have been careful about projecting his son Aditya at the expense of some high-ranking leaders. Instead, he remained inaccessible even to his senior ministers.

Third, the Sainiks could not feel comfortable with the coalition partners, as they had grown for decades in the struggle against Congress. Some parts of Sena felt that the alliance was hurting the party’s growth.

Fourth, the rebels are controlled by the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI and income tax officials. They see returning to the NDA as a way out of this intimidation.

To escape the rigors of the anti-defector law, the Shinde group must pass the test of two-thirds of its elected members. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has rightly said that the real test would be the floor test. So Eknath Shinde must win the floor test along with the BJP to dethrone Uddhav.

Uddhav cannot fight on two fronts: the power of the BJP and the growing number of rebels. He may have to compromise or lose both his party and the government. Since Shinde invoked Balasaheb’s name and ideology in his demands against Uddhav, the Thackeray clan must also ensure that Balasaheb’s legacy is preserved.

It will be a challenge for Uddhav to unite the party. If he does, he will emerge as a strong leader. He has the advantage because the common workers are with him by many legislators not. Most of all, he has the last name Thackeray. (IPA service)

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