he Latest manifestation of semi-fascist terror unleashed by the chauvinist political outfit Shiv sena on any one and every one who dares to differ with it as become a subject of national concern. Media, minorities, both linguistic and religious, political parties, trade unions, film stars, cricketers, industrialists- the Shiv Sena spares none. The Shiv Sena leader and former loksabha speaker Manohar Joshi unabashedly said: Our boys will not tolerate anybody who critisises Shiva Sena’s supremo Bal Thakerey. Bal Thackeray’s vituperative attack does not spare even India’s legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.
The latest acts of Shiv Sena are neither new, nor will be the last. The history of Shiv Sena reveals this.
The Shiv Sena, during nearly four and a half decades of its existence, has always symbolised the semi-fascist face of reaction. The rapid growth of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra since the mid-eighties is, in fact, closely linked to the parallel growth of the saffron brigade at the national level during the same period.
The Shiv Sena has systematically targetted different sections of minorities in a cynical attempt to build its mass support. Such minority targets have included non-Maharashtrians, Muslims and Dalits. The communal riots and caste atrocities unleashed by the Shiv Sena constitute one of the blackest chapters in the history of Maharashtra.
The links of the Shiv Sena with mafia gangs, organised crime, extortion rackets and corruption scandals are notorious.
Rabid anti-Communism has been a fundamental and consistent plank of the Shiv Sena ever since its inception. It is this aspect that has ensured it the firm support of big business.
It was the ruling Congress party that nurtured and supported the Shiv Sena for over two decades from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. In the early phase, this support was given to break the Communist hold over the trade union movement in Mumbai; in the later phase, it was to settle factional scores within the Congress itself. At the same time, it is also true that, with the sole exception of the Communists, all other opposition parties in the state have also collaborated with the Shiv Sena at various times, their leaders sharing the platform with the Shiv Sena supremo and some of them even going to the extent of striking electoral alliances with the Shiv Sena in local elections.
The Shiv Sena has always been under the authoritarian grip of its demagogic supremo Bal Thackeray, who has never disguised his contempt for democracy and adulation of dictatorship. His servile support to the Emergency was couched in these ideological terms. Thackeray has publicly glorified the likes of Adolf Hitler and Nathuram Godse.
The Genesis of the Shiv Sena
The Shiv Sena was founded on June 19, 1966 with the avowed intention of fighting the alleged injustice in employment and other matters being faced by the Maharashtrians in Mumbai. The reason cited for this injustice was the influx into Mumbai of people from other states, amongst whom the Shiv Sena mainly targetted South Indians. It then simultaneously took up cudgels against the Communists, branding them as anti-national, and launched its strike-breaking activities and other attacks against the trade union movement. The bias against Muslims and Dalits was very much there ever since its inception.
The spadework for the formation of the Shiv Sena had started six years earlier, with the launching of the Marathi weekly “Marmik” by Bal Thackeray on August 13, 1960, just three months after the formation of the state of Maharashtra on May 1, 1960. The publication of the first issue of “Marmik”, significantly, took place at the hands of the first chief minister of Maharashtra and a top Congress leader, Y.B. Chavan!
The Samyukta Maharashtra Movement
The launching of “Marmik”, which became a precursor to the formation of the Shiv Sena, took place against the backdrop of a huge mass movement for Samyukta Maharashtra, i.e. a united Maharashtra inclusive of Mumbai, Konkan, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada regions but exclusive of Gujarat.
The formation of a unilingual state of Maharashtra, with Mumbai as its capital, was achieved on May Day 1960 only after a long and bitter mass struggle. This democratic struggle began in 1955, lasted for five years and sacrificed 105 martyrs in brutal police firing ordered by the Morarji Desai-led state government in 1955-56. Tens of thousands of people were arrested and braved lathi-charges in the course of this movement. The struggle was led by the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, which mainly comprised the Socialists, Communists and other democrats.
The Samiti fought the parliamentary and assembly elections of 1957 jointly and succeeded in giving a big jolt to the Congress, which could scrape through only because of its support in Gujarat and Vidarbha. The same year, the Samiti also swept the Bombay Municipal Corporation polls, routing the Congress. The Samyukta Maharashtra movement achieved victory, but as we shall analyse later, it also gave rise to a strong streak of regional chauvinism which was later exploited by “Marmik” and the Shiv Sena to the hilt.
Bal Thackeray himself, along with some others who formed the Shiv Sena, had been associated with the RSS in their early years, and this had the inevitable impact on Shiv Sena ideology and organisation. Thackeray was a cartoonist who did a brief stint with the “Free Press Journal”, an English daily in Mumbai. He soon fell out with its management and started his own weekly “Marmik”. For six years, Thackeray wrote provocative pieces in “Marmik”, highlighting instances of injustice to Maharashtrians in Mumbai, especially in the matter of white collar jobs. Lists were regularly published of the names of officials in government concerns and private companies, making out that most of the officers were non-Maharashtrians, mostly South Indians.
The target of “Marmik” was never the Congress government policies. But its target was invariably the “outsiders” who were snatching away jobs from the “sons of the soil”. As a matter of fact, Thackeray always made it a point to praise the capitalists, although most of them were non-Marathi, under the plea that it was they who provided the jobs! He also strove to be on the right side of the Congress rulers, and every anniversary function of “Marmik” used to be graced by Congress bigwigs.
The public response to this weekly was, in fact, the main factor that prompted Thackeray to form the Shiv Sena, and it was this “Marmik” readership that eventually became the nucleus of several Shiv Sena ”shakhas”, or branches, in the urban belt of Mumbai and Thane districts.
The first mass rally of the Shiv Sena was held at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai on October 30, 1966. It was the day of Dussehra, and on every Dussehra day in subsequent years, similar Shiv Sena rallies have been held on Shivaji Park. Like the “shakha” concept, this practice, too, has been lifted from the RSS, which has regularly held its annual Dussehra rallies at Nagpur. There was a large turn-out for this first-ever Shiv Sena rally, which is said to have surprised Thackeray himself. Congress leader Ramrao Adik also addressed this Shiv Sena rally.
The Card of Regional Chauvinism
The two main demands raised by the Shiv Sena were 80 per cent jobs in government concerns and 80 per cent houses in state housing board colonies for Maharashtrians. In support of this, a virulent campaign was unleashed through the late sixties and early seventies. Attacks on South Indian establishments became a regular feature, and it was then that the extortion racket under the name of “protection money” began. In 1968, cinema theatres screening Hindi films brought out by South Indian producers were attacked and the shows brought to a halt. The shows began only when considerable sums of money changed hands. Demonstrations were held on government concerns demanding jobs for Maharashtrians, and many of these turned violent.
In 1972, an organisation called the Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti (SLS) was set up. In a bid to attract white collar employees, the SLS set up its units in large government and semi-government concerns like the RBI,SBI, LIC, GIC, Air India, Railways, other nationalised banks and so on. In many of these concerns there were All India unions led by the Left, which proved difficult to break. Hence, the SLS tried a new tactic. It concentrated on the demand that 80 per cent of the staff must be Maharashtrians and focussed exclusively on three main questions affecting the Marathi employees, viz, recruitment, transfers and promotions. It backed up this campaign by demonstrations and other intimidatory measures. This enabled the Shiv Sena to attract the middle classes.
In another effort to play the regional chauvinist card, the Shiv Sena took up the unresolved Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute. This resulted in the first full-scale riot unleashed by the Shiv Sena in Mumbai in February 1969.
Attacks on Communists and on Working Class Unity
Anti-Communism, attacks on working class unity and serving as a handmaid of the capitalists are all part of fascistic ideology and practice. The Shiv Sena displayed all these features in ample measure right from its inception. It made the Communists its foremost political target. And in this endeavour, it received unstinted support from big business, the Congress state government and large sections of the capitalist-controlled media.
But the Shiv Sena did not stop at verbal propaganda alone. Egged on by big business, it started using the Marathi chauvinist card to break working class unity. With some ground thus prepared, it began to display its muscle power to break Communist-led strikes, overthrow the established AITUC/CITU union and replace it with the Shiv Sena union which would then sign an amicable agreement with the management. In this strike-breaking process, several militant workers of the Communist-led unions would be dismissed and replaced by Shiv Sainiks to strengthen the Shiv Sena hold in the factory.
Some major examples of Communist-led unions that were broken in this manner were the AITUC unions of Larsen and Toubro, T. Maneklal and Parle Bottling Plant in Mumbai, and the CITU unions of Devidayal Cables, Wyman Gordon and Surendra Industries in Thane. But there were also many other instances where the CITU and AITUC succeeded in repulsing this Shiv Sena onslaught. Nevertheless, taking the picture as a whole, it is true that Communist-led unions did suffer major setbacks during this period.
In order to give this drive an organised channel, the Shiv Sena set up its own trade union, the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena (BKS) on August 9, 1968. The anti-working class stand of the Shiv Senan became crystal clear when it publicly opposed the state government employees strike and the textile workers strike in the early seventies and backed this up by opposing the Great Railway Strike of 1974.
There was one major section of the working class whose support at the union level continued to elude the Shiv Sena , and this was the then three lakh strong textile workers of Mumbai, a large majority being Maharashtrians. Historically, the textile workers had long been under the influence of the Girni Kamgar Union (GKU) that was led by the Communists. They had fought and won several militant strike-struggles under Communist leadership right since the twenties. Here the Shiv Sena began to use the most reprehensible tactics based on outright violence and naked terror.
In December 1967, the CPI headquarters of Mumbai at Dalvi Building in Parel, which is situated in the very midst of the textile area, was savagely attacked by Shiv Sena activists and almost destroyed. Organised attempts were made to break up Communist public meetings and several leaders and activists of both the CPI and the CPI(M) were physically assaulted. The climax was reached on June 6, 1970, when armed activists of the Shiv Sena murdered the sitting MLA of the CPI, Krishna Desai. Krishna Desai was a popular and militant mass leader in the textile belt and had been elected municipal corporator four times before he was elected to the state assembly in 1967. This was the first major political assassination in Mumbai since independence, and it sent shock waves through the city and state. The leadership of the entire opposition alongwith thousands of incensed workers, marched in Krishna Desai’s funeral procession. Opposition leaders directly accused the Shiv Sena and the Congress state government in general, and Bal Thackeray and Vasantrao Naik in particular, of being hand in glove in the perpetration of this heinous crime.
Communal, Casteist and Authoritarian Slant
The communal and casteist mobilisation of the Shiv Sena started in a big way in the mid-eighties. But even in this first phase, the Shiv Sena slant became clear from a few striking instances. Thackeray personally intervened on the side of the Hindus in two mandir-masjid disputes, which he utilised to rake up communal tensions. One was the Durgadi shrine at Kalyan in Thane district; the other was the Mahikavati shrine at Mahad in Raigad district. But the biggest communal incident in which the Shiv Sena was involved in its early years was the Bhiwandi riots of May 1970, which also spread to Mahad and Jalgaon. The riots were ignited in connection with a Shiv Jayanti procession. 43 people were killed in Bhiwandi, 39 in Jalgaon and property worth crores was destroyed. The Justice Madon Commission of Inquiry squarely laid the blame on the following organisations for the riots: Shiv Sena, Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha, Rashtriya Utsav Mandal and Bhiwandi Seva Samiti (both RSS outfits) and All India Majlis Tamir-e-Millat.
As for the casteist slant, the first flash point came in January 1974, when there was a violent clash between the Shiv Sena and the Dalit Panthers. The Dalit Panthers was set up in 1972, both as a challenge to the injustice of the social system and as a rebellion against the then moribund and directionless Republican Party of India (RPI). The Panthers began by taking up both caste and class issues and also launched a campaign to expose the regressive aspects of some Hindu religious tenets. Capitalising on certain speeches made by Panther leaders about Hindu deities, the Shiv Sena unleashed riots against Dalits in the Worli BDD chawls in Mumbai. The riots then spread to other areas of the city and continued for a week. Dalit Panther leader Bhagwat Jadhav was brutally killed by Shiv Sena activities. Thus began the feud of the Shiv Sena against the Dalit community.
Electoral Opportunism Galore
At the birth of the Shiv Sena , Thackeray had declared that it was only a social organisation that treated politics with contempt. But within just six months of that statement, the Shiv Sena had plunged into politics. Its first entry during the parliamentary and assembly elections of 1967 was indirect and negative. It did not contest any seats itself, but gave a call for the defeat of Lok Sabha candidates in Mumbai like V.K. Krishna Menon (because he was an “outsider”), S.A. Dange (because he was a Communist) and George Fernandes (because he was a socialist). Menon lost, but the other two won. The rank opportunism of the Shiv Sena became evident during this election itself. When it supported the then Bombay Congress boss S.K. Patil against Fernandes, after having lampooned Patil savagely for seven years in the columns of “Marmik” for his anti-Maharashtrian stances. In later parliamentary elections, the Shiv Sena fully supported Naval Tata of the House of Tatas, made huge sums of money and also exposed its class bias. It also supported retired General of the Army, K.M. Cariappa, although he was an “outsider”.
Later the same year, 1967, the Shiv Sena fought the Thane municipal elections won 17 of the 40 seats and managed to install its own Mayor. This was the first electoral breakthrough for the Shiv Sena. The next year in 1968 came the elections to the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC). Here, the Shiv Sena and the Praja Samajwadi Party (PSP) shocked the political world by concluding an electoral alliance.
The Shiv Sena won 42 of the 140 seats in the BMC, the PSP won 11, but the Congress still emerged as the largest party with 65. The CPI, however, was reduced from 18 seats won in 1961 to only 3 in 1968, the PWP was decimated from 8 to nil, and the newly-formed CPI(M) won 2. Two years later, in October 1970, the assembly by-election necessitated by Krishna Desai’s murder was, narrowly won by the Shiv Sena , despite the fact that the CPI had put up Krishna Desai’s wife as its candidate. The winner, Wamanrao Mahadik, thus became the first Shiv Sena MLA in the state assembly. These election results were an ominous indication that the anti-Communist campaign of the Shiv Sena was beginning to bear fruit.
For the next BMC elections of 1973, the Shiv Sena forged an alliance with the RPI led by R.S. Gavai! The Shiv Sena almost retained its old strength by winning 39 seats, but the RPI had to be content with just 1. Sudhir Joshi of the Shiv Sena was elected Mayor with the support of one Congress faction, the RPI, and – this is the astounding part – with the support of the corporators of the Muslim League!
In early 1975, Thackeray’s reliable mentor Vasantrao Naik was made to step down as chief minister after a record 12-year long tenure, which still remains unmatched in the history of the state. He was replaced by S.B.Chavan, a leader from Marathwada who was foisted from Delhi.
Servile Support to Emergency
In the beginning of the Emergency, there were rumours that alongwith the RSS and other banned organisations, the Shiv Sena would also be banned and its leaders put behind bars. But Thackeray stalled any such move by declaring full Shiv Sena support to the Emergency, overruling the misgivings of some of his minions. He then buttressed this by publicly singing praises of not only Indira Gandhi but also Sanjay Gandhi. Thus, throughout the Emergency, the Shiv Sena lay completely docile and dormant, raising no contentious issues and leading no fiery agitations. Its day-to-day “shakha” functioning and routine trade union work went on, but in muted fashion.
In a sense, the Shiv Sena support to the Emergency was ideologically consistent with its oft-repeated, fascistic adulation of dictatorship. However, it is widely believed that Thackeray took this stand because he was terrified at the prospect of an indefinitely long jail term. The one brief stint that he had of jail life in 1969 had been for him a dreadful experience, and he would do anything to avoid a repeat of the same.
Marginalisation of the Shiv Sena
Shiv Sena support to the Congress (I) continued even after the Emergency and the subsequent rout of that party. In the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, the Shiv Sena did not contest a single seat; instead, it worked for the Congress. The revulsion of the people against the Congress also rebounded on the Shiv Sena and the opposition made a clean sweep of all the Lok Sabha seats from Mumbai. The same year, in the Bombay mayoral election, the Shiv Sena backtracked on its own earlier assurance to support the opposition and instead supported the candidature of Congress candidate Murli Deora, who won. In the 1978 assembly elections, the Shiv Sena contested some seats on its own but drew a complete blank. And in the BMC elections soon after, its strength was cut down by half; it won only 21 seats out of 140 as against 42 and 39 that it had won in the earlier two elections. There was now no doubt that Shiv Sena influence even in its citadel of Mumbai was beginning to wane.
In the Lok Sabha elections of 1980, held after the collapse of the Janata Party rule at the Centre, the Congress(I) staged a comeback. Indira Gandhi promptly dismissed several opposition-led state governments, which included the PDF regime in Maharashtra, and fresh assembly elections were held. The Congress(I) swept the polls and, in order to teach a lesson to the Maratha lobby that had opposed her, she foisted A.R. Antulay as the chief minister. Thackeray and Antulay had always been the best of friends; indeed, so special was their relationship that the Shiv Sena did not contest the 1980 assembly elections at all – instead, it worked for the Congress(I)! Returning the favour, Antulay got three Shiv Sena leaders elected to the legislative council with Congress(I) support! All the above events showed to what extent the Shiv Sena had been marginalised during this period.
The early eighties in Maharashtra, as elsewhere in the country, saw the first stirrings of a new drive launched by the forces of Hindu communalism, which was spearheaded by the RSS-controlled Sangh Parivar. Capitalising on events like the Meenakshipuram conversions, terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir, Christian missionary activities in the north-east and so on, the VHP began to make direct appeals for Hindu consolidation to meet these challenges. Ganga Jal yatras were taken out across the country and the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was deliberately raked up. The communal cauldron was being stirred up by the saffron brigade.
The Communal Card
The Shiv Sena inaugurated its new communal drive with the ghastly communal riots in Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Thane and Mumbai that were unleashed in May 1984. The provocation for the riots was a public speech by Thackeray wherein he made derogatory remarks against the Prophet, Mohammed Paigambar. These remarks were printed in exaggerated form by some Urdu papers. As a reaction to this, in far-off Parbhani in the Marathwada region, a Congress MLA, A.R. Khan organised a large protest action in which Thackeray’s photo was garlanded with shoes. This ignited the fuse which led the Shiv Sena to unleash massive riots in which at least 258 people were killed, thousands injured and property worth crores destroyed. The riots were replete with terrible instances of cruelty, the most heinous being the Ansari Baug massacre at Bhiwandi. It has been clearly established that the main culprit in these riots was the Shiv Sena.
While the build-up to these riots, consisting of rabid communal propaganda and even collection of weapons, was going on openly for two months in Mumbai and Bhiwandi, the government did absolutely nothing. The attitude of the police not only reflected this complete apathy, but it also had additional communal bias. Even after the riots, no action was ever taken against Thackeray or any of the other culprits.
In the Lok Sabha elections of 1984 held in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Shiv Sena for the first time concluded an election alliance with the BJP. But in the sympathy wave that followed the assassination, the Congress(I) swept the polls, winning a record 43 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra. The SS-BJP alliance, which drew a blank, was dissolved soon after, to be reforged in a more lasting form five years later. In the 1985 assembly polls, the Shiv Sena fought on its own and Chhagan Bhujbal became the lone Shiv Sena candidate to get elected as MLA. Politically, the Shiv Sena was still down in the dumps.
Resurrection of the Shiv Sena
The resurrection of the Shiv Sena took place in the BMC elections of 1985, and after that it has never looked back. These elections were held within a few months of the assembly polls in which the Shiv Sena had been clobbered, winning just one solitary seat, out of the 34 seats in Mumbai and 288 seats in Maharashtra. But just before this election, a very significant incident took place. When asked by Shiv Sena MLC Pramod Navalkar in the legislative council, if there were any plans to separate Bombay from Maharashtra and make it a union territory, chief minister Vasantdada Patil himself gave the following reply: “I do not know if there is such a proposal, but we will fight tooth and nail if anyone tries to separate Bombay from Maharashtra”! Actually, there was never any such proposal, and both Patil and the Shiv Sena knew it only too well. But this calculated reply was enough to set the cat among the pigeons, and it was on this single issue that the Shiv Sena whipped up regional sentiments, and won the elections with 78 seats of the 170 at stake!
Capitalising on its victory, the Shiv Sena lost no time in threatening another Assam-type agitation to rid Bombay of all “outsiders”. Thackeray even went to the extent of demanding that 1972 be considered as the cut-off date, that all non-Maharashtrians who had settled in Mumbai after that date be driven out and that new laws be framed to stop further influx of “outsiders” into the city. None of this, of course, ever came into effect, but the Shiv Sena often gave such threats even in later years.
In 1986, the “homecoming” of Sharad Pawar to the Congress(I) proved to be another big bonanza for Shiv Sena expansion in Maharashtra. This created a vacuum in the opposition space which the Shiv Sena and the BJP, with their communal appeal on the ascendant, began to fill. This was further aided by the rising incidence of inner-Congress factionalism, which resulted in all too frequent changes of Congress chief ministers and their cabinets during the eighties. There were as many as six chief ministers in ten years. These were important reasons for SS-BJP growth during this period.
Another significant reason that contributed to the growth of the Shiv Sena and the BJP during the late eighties and early nineties was the decline of the Shetkari Sanghatana led by Sharad Joshi. This organisation, which came to prominence in the late seventies and early eighties around the one-point programme of remunerative prices for agricultural produce, clearly represented the landlord lobby and the rich peasantry. But it mobilised thousands of peasants in Maharashtra for militant agitations around crops like onions, tobacco, sugarcane and cotton. Although it claimed to be aloof from politics, in the eighties it generally threw its weight behind selected third front candidates. But in the early nineties, Sharad Joshi revealed his true colours as an unashamed champion of the liberalisation policies and the GATT agreement. It was this that led to a split in the Shetkari Sanghatana and to a nosedive in Sharad Joshi’s influence in the peasantry. The peasant agitations also declined. It was in these years that sections of the peasantry who had been let down by the Shetkari Sanghatana and who were disillusioned with the Congress, began to gravitate towards the Shiv Sena and the BJP.
Later, Sharad Joshi formed a new party called the Swatantra Bharat Party which was wiped out in successive elections and Joshi was himself defeated a couple of times. In 1999, he reached the nadir of political opportunism. The same Sharad Joshi, who in his heyday used to publicly lash out at the SS-BJP as “communal vultures”, now pleaded with Thackeray to accommodate some of his candidates in the SS-BJP alliance! When Thackeray refused, Joshi turned to Sharad Pawar .
The Hindutva Campaign and Statewide Communal Riots
In November 1986, the Shiv Sena gave a call for the observance of a “Saffron Week” all over the state to propagate its version of Hindutva. This was in the background of the Rajiv Gandhi regime’s opportunistic decisions as regards the Shah Bano case and the opening of the lock of the Ayodhya shrine. The “Saffron Week” was used for the airing of rabid communal propaganda and for the starting of Shiv Sena “shakhas” in villages. All this set the stage for communal riots in various parts of the state.
Actually, communal riots were a prominent feature in Maharashtra throughout the eighties. They began in 1982 with the Jan Jagran Yatras of the VHP, their scale increasing in 1984 when the Shiv Sena got into the fray. From 1986 onwards, when the SS spread to Maharashtra began, communal riots and atrocities on Dalits were ignited in several towns and villages spread all over the state. These were spearheaded by the SS, with various RSS outfits and sometimes even local Congress bosses playing a supporting role. This created an atmosphere of communal and caste polarisation which was utilised by the Shiv Sena and the BJP to expand and consolidate their base.
The year 1989 was a turning point for Shiv Sena fortunes. That year, in addition to its weekly “Marmik” which was being published all these years, it started the Mumbai edition of its daily called “Saamnaa” (which means Confrontation). This was obviously in preparation for the parliamentary and assembly elections due in 1989-90. With a daily newspaper in its hands, the poisonous divisive propaganda of the Shiv Sena reached fever pitch.
In April 1989, a shocking incident occurred in Thane. The Shiv Sena had unexpectedly lost the Thane mayoral election due to cross-voting by some of its own corporators. This was an unprecedented event in the annals of the thoroughly regimented organisation. An incenses Thackeray warned of dire consequences awaiting the betrayers. Within days of this warning, Shridhar Khopkar, one of the suspected corporators, was murdered in cold blood by Shiv Sena hoodlums.
Within just two months of this incident, at the Palampur meeting of its national executive in June 1989, the BJP took the decision of forging an alliance with the Shiv Sena for the ensuing elections. This was the beginning of the SS-BJP alliance based on Hindutva, which has lasted upto this day.
The Casteist Card
While playing the communal card in such a cynical manner, the Shiv Sena simultaneously began to open its casteist card. From the mid-eighties, the Shiv Sena began to incite a series of assaults and atrocities on Dalits, particularly in the rural areas of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions but extending to other regions as well. The Shiv Sena opposed encroachments by Dalits on fallow lands, going to the extent of destroying their crops and attacking their hutments.
When the Mandal Commission controversy erupted, Thackeray publicly declared his total and uncompromising opposition to all caste-based reservations, not only for the OBCs but also for the SCs and STs. All the above stands of the Shiv Sena were sweet music to the ears of the upper-caste sections in the countryside.
The casteist aspect of the Shiv Sena came to prominent public attention in 1987. With the death centenary of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and the birth centenary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar due in 1990-91,the state government had begun the project of publishing the complete works of both. As part of this project, it brought out a volume that contained Ambedkar’s hitherto unpublished work, “Riddles in Hinduism”. In this, he made a rational and dispassionate analysis, from the standpoint of social justice, of the life stories of Hindu deities. The work also had a section which was called “the Riddle of Ram and Krishna”.
The Shiv Sena pounced on “Riddles”, branded it as an intolerable insult to Hindu religion and Hindu deities and demanded a ban on its publication. It held a huge demonstration in Mumbai on January 15, 1988 and began disturbances all over the state, abusing Dr. Ambedkar and widening caste-communal divisions. It was only after an even larger counter-demonstration by all Dalit groups on February 5, 1988, that the publication could proceed.
At around the same time, another furore was raised when “Sobat”, a Marathi journal with RSS leanings, launched a vicious attack on Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, another great champion of radical social justice, whom Dr. Ambedkar himself often referred to as his guru. The upper-caste prejudice of the saffron brigade became even more crystal clear.
One issue that kept simmering in Maharashtra for 16 years from 1978 to 1994 was that of the renaming of the Marathwada University at Aurangabad after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. On July 27, 1978, the state assembly adopted a unanimous resolution to rename the university. But even before the ink had dried on that resolution, large-scale caste riots and heinous atrocities on Dalits were unleashed throughout the Marathwada region, forcing a suspension of its implementation. This turmoil was instigated mainly by feudal landed interests in the Congress, and they were ably assisted by upper-caste zealots of the Jan Sangh, which was then part of the Janata Party. The Shiv Sena publicly opposed the renaming move and it was the only political party to do so consistently for the next 16 years. But in 1978, it was confined to Mumbai and Thane and so could not play any mischief in Marathwada at the time.
Through the 1980s, there were several mass protests by Dalit and Left organisations in favour of the renaming, but successive Congress regimes refused to budge, fearing another conflagration.
On November 25, 1993, Gautam Waghmare, a Dalit Panther youth from Nanded, committed self-immolation to press the issue of renaming. His martyrdom electrified the state and massive united demonstrations of Dalit and Left organisations took place in every district. The Shiv Sena tried to hold back the tide with a Marathwada Bandh opposing the renaming, but this time it evoked little response. The state government finally implemented the renaming resolution on January 14, 1994 amidst massive security measures. However, it also carved out a separate university at Nanded that covered some Marathwada districts. The Shiv Sena denounced the renaming decision with a violent statewide bandh call, but this time it failed in inciting riots.
All the above instances are a clear pointer to the reactionary and casteist character of the Shiv Sena which, however, did pay it electoral dividends for a time.
Emergence of a Reactionary Alternative
The SS-BJP alliance forged in 1989 fought its first Lok Sabha polls the same year and it won 14 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra. The basic agreement between the two that was reached then, and which has been followed since despite several stresses and strains, was that the BJP would contest more seats for Parliament, while the Shiv Sena would contest more seats for the assembly. Thus, the Shiv Sena fought only 6 seats, of which it won 4. The BJP contested 33 seats, of which it won 10. This lopsided proportion of seats contested subsequently changed radically in favour of the SS; in the latest 1999 parliamentary elections, the SS contested 22 seats, while the BJP contested 26.
In the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress managed to win 28 seats, and the NF-LF was pushed to third place with 6 seats. The significant feature was that the SS-BJP, with 14 seats, had won nearly 28 per cent of the total votes. Boosted by these results, the SS-BJP made a determined bid to wrest control of the state assembly in the elections of 1990. The BJP had already made a breakthrough at the national level by winning 88 seats in Parliament in the 1989 polls.
The SS-BJP alliance won 94 of the 288 seats in the assembly elections, again garnering nearly 27 per cent of the vote. Of these 94 seats, the Shiv Sena won 52 and the BJP got 42, establishing the former as the senior partner in the alliance. The Congress, then led by Sharad Pawar as the chief minister, just managed to scrape through with 141 seats, which was 4 short of a majority. This was made up with the support of Congress rebels and independents. The third front won only 37 seats. The results of both these elections conclusively pointed to the emergence of a right reactionary alternative in the politics of Maharashtra.
Both rounds of the Lok Sabha elections of 1991 in Maharashtra were held in the wake of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Consequently, the Congress won 38 seats, a straight gain of 10 seats over 1989. The SS-BJP tally fell from 14 to 9 (SS – 4, BJP – 5), but its voting percentage declined only marginally.
Glorification of Nathuram Godse and Adolf Hitler
This came in the Lok Sabha elections of May 1991. In three successive election rallies in Aurangabad, Pune and Kolhapur, Thackeray raised a nationwide storm of protest by his shockingly outrageous glorification of Nathuram Godse, the communally-surcharged assassin of Mahatma Gandhi! The PTI, in a despatch from Pune on May 17, 1991, which was carried in all the national dailies, quoted Thackeray as saying in the election rally, “We are proud of Nathuram, he saved the country from a second partition. Nathuram was not a hired assassin. He was genuinely infuriated by Mahatma Gandhi’s betrayal of the nation. Gandhi had said that he would lay down his life before allowing the division of the country. But ultimately he did nothing to stop the partition”. These odious remarks of Thackeray were also published in the Shiv Sena daily “Saamnaa” itself.
In similar fashion, Thackeray often glorified Adolf Hitler in his speeches and writings. It was at Thackeray’s hands that a laudatory biography of Hitler written by a saffronite Bal Samant was published. In the speech made at the function, Thackeray not only praised Hitler to the skies as a great nationalist, but he also bought over 200 copies of the book and distributed them free to all his important Shiv Sena lieutenants!
Attacks on the Press and the Judiciary
With this fascistic ideology, attacks on the press, the judiciary, and on culture and literature were a regular feature of Shiv Sena activities since its inception. The battles conducted with the pen in earlier years were later supplemented by battles conducted with sticks and stones. The most notorious early instance was the running battle of words that went on for years together in the sixties between the “Marmik” run by Bal Thackeray and the “Maratha” run by P.K. Atre. Atre was an extremely versatile man of letters and also a great orator; he was one of the leading figures of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement; and he was generally of a democratic and secular bent of mind. Thackeray took this battle of words to such lower depths that he began to routinely refer to Atre in “Marmik” as “that pig from Worli”, this referring to the fact that the office of the popular Marathi daily “Maratha” was situated at Worli. Later, in the 1967 elections, Shiv Sena hoodlums savagely attacked Atre’s public meeting at Thane, and Atre himself escaped by the skin of his teeth.
Amongst scores of such incidents, we shall limit ourselves to just three major instances of press-bashing conducted by Shiv Sena hordes in the early nineties. In October 1991, Shiv Sena activists attacked the office of the Marathi eveninger in Mumbai called “Mahanagar”, which had run a strong editorial condemning the Shiv Sena for having dug up the cricket pitch at the Wankhede Stadium to prevent the holding of the India-Pakistan match. A journalists’ demonstration held to protest this attack was stoned and three journalists, two of them women, were physically assaulted. One of them, Manimala of the `Navbharat Times’ was attacked with a crowbar, which fractured her skull! At around the same time, another woman journalist who criticised the Shiv Sena in a television programme had to face a campaign of character assassination in the Hindi eveninger of the Shiv Sena “Dopahar Ka Saamnaa”, which then went on to run a filthy editorial that compared women journalists to prostitutes!
In August 1993, Shiv Sena hoodlums physically attacked the editor of “Mahanagar” Nikhil Wagle while he was addressing a seminar. All these successive incidents led to a wave of protests which culminated in a large mass dharna right outside the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Mumbai. This protest was personally led by national-level editors like Nikhil Chakravarty, N. Ram, Prabhash Joshi, many other eminent secular intellectuals and by leaders of the Left and democratic parties in the state.
But within six months of this, in February 1994, Shiv Sena stormtroopers made another dastardly assault on a dozen journalists at Aurangabad under the very nose of Thackeray, who had himself instigated this attack. Those who accompanied Thackeray included Manohar Joshi and other Shiv Sena bigwigs. Three of the scribes, of whom two belonged to the minority community, were grievously injured in this assault. Still later, the Aurangabad office of the largest-selling Marathi daily in the state, “Lokmat”, was vandalised by Shiv Sena hoodlums. So far as the verbal attacks on several editors and journalists in the columns of “Saamnaa” and “Marmik” and the abysmal level of these attacks, the less said the better.
Similarly, whenever the judiciary handed down judgements against the Shiv Sena , Thackeray assailed it openly through his statements and editorials. For instance, when the High Court ruled to unseat some SS-BJP MLAs, Thackeray made a speech in Mumbai to inaugurate the SS-BJP Lok Sabha election campaign of 1991. In this speech, as reported by “The Independent”, a daily that was then run by the Times of India group, Thackeray “launched a vitriolic attack on the judiciary, terming it `corrupt’ and `partial’. He minced no words while criticising the `temples of justice’ “. A report of the same meeting in the “Times of India” dated April 20 can only be construed as dark threats issued by Thackeray to the judiciary.
Unprecedented Revolt in Communal Monolith
During the winter session of the state assembly at Nagpur in December 1991, the monolithic Shiv Sena was rocked by the unprecedented revolt of Chhagan Bhujbal alongwith 17other MLAs from rural Maharashtra, all of whom promptly joined the Congress. This number constituted one-third of the 52 Shiv Sena MLAs and thus they escaped the provisions of the anti-defection act, with some valuable help from the assembly speaker! Chhagan Bhujbal was considered No. 3 in the Shiv Sena hierarchy, after Bal Thackeray and Manohar Joshi. He hailed from the large Mali community amongst the OBCs and was primarily responsible for the spadework that enabled the Shiv Sena to spread in rural Maharashtra in the latter half of the eighties. His revolt, therefore, naturally constituted a major setback for future Shiv Sena prospects.
The Road to Power: The Ghastly Bombay Riots
There were two main factors that were responsible for the dramatic rise in SS-BJP fortunes after 1992. The first was, of course, the ghastly communal riots in Bombay, and also in other parts of Maharashtra, in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, and the subsequent serial bomb blasts in Bombay in March 1993. And the second was the utter bankruptcy in all spheres that was exhibited by the Sharad Pawar-led Congress state government during the years 1993-95.
The Bombay riots of December 1992 and January 1993 must surely be ranked as by far the worst case of communal violence in the country since partition. They were characterised by an extremely venomous communal hate campaign.
Both these catastrophes led to unprecedented communal polarisation throughout the state of Maharashtra. It was the single most important reason for the revival of SS-BJP fortunes and for their eventual victory in the assembly elections of 1995. The other two main reasons were the failure on all fronts of the Congress state government and tremendous factionalism, which was remarkable even by Congress standards. In these elections, the SS-BJP garnered nearly 30 per cent of the votes and won 138 seats, which was still 7 short of a majority. This was made up with the opportunistic support given by 40-odd Congress rebel MLAs of all factions. The Shiv Sena won 73 of the 171 seats that it contested, while the BJP won 65 of the 117 that was its share. The decimated Congress won just 80 seats, and the divided third front was reduced to 23.
On March 14, 1995, the new SS-BJP state government with Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena as chief minister and Gopinath Munde of the BJP as deputy chief minister took office. After a 30-year tortuous journey, this Shiv Sena had at last succeeded in reaching the pinnacle of state power in Maharashtra, in alliance with a partner that was to reach the pinnacle of state power in India just three years later.
The Fall of the SS-BJP Regime
The SS-BJP regime met its Waterloo in the assembly elections of 1999. But before that, two general elections to Parliament took place in 1996 and 1998. In 1996, the people were still in the mood to give the new regime a chance and the SS-BJP won a record 33 of the 48 seats (SS-15, BJP – 18). But even more significant was the fact that their total vote share rose to nearly 39 per cent. This was more than a 10 per cent rise over their vote share in all the elections from 1989 to 1995. The Congress got 15 seats.
But the picture was completely reversed in 1998. The SS-BJP were reduced to just 10 seats (SS – 6, BJP – 4). This was a direct fall of 23 seats compared to 1996. But mainly due to the disintegration of the third front, the SS-BJP vote share increased to over 42 per cent. The Congress-RPI-SP alliance won 50 per cent of the vote, the Congress bagged 33 seats and the RPI got 4 seats. With this major setback, the SS-BJP regime made a last-ditch effort to revive its sagging fortunes by dumping chief minister Manohar Joshi in January 1999 and replacing him with Narayan Rane, who had an even more dubious past record. This was actually done out of caste considerations, since Joshi was a Brahmin and Rane was a Maratha. But even this last ploy proved fruitless. Thackeray himself was disenfranchised by the Election Commission for his earlier communal speeches and writings.
The 1999 Loksabha and Assembly elections were widely predicted to herald a stunning and spectacular defeat for the SS-BJP combine. But just before the polls came the revolt of Sharad Pawar and the formation of the NCP, throwing all earlier calculations haywire. In the event, the SS-BJP won 28 seats in the Lok Sabha (SS -–15, BJP – 13) with 38 per cent of the vote, which was 4 per cent lower than in 1998. The INC, with nearly 30 per cent of the vote won 10 seats, and the NCP with almost 22 per cent of the vote got only 6 seats. The remaining 4 seats went to NCP/INC allies like RPI, PWP and JD(S).
But in the simultaneous assembly elections, the SS-BJP vote was less than 32 per cent, which was 6 per cent lower than in the parliamentary elections, mainly because the people were bent on teaching the state government a lesson. Thus, the SS-BJP won only 125 seats out of 288 (SS-69, BJP-56). The INC won 75 seats and the NCP got 58 seats, making a total of 133. This led to a hung assembly. But the smaller secular parties won 15 seats, tilting the balance against the SS-BJP.
If the Congress split had not occurred and if the various parties had got the same vote share that they got in these elections, the SS-BJP tally would have been slashed to just 9 seats in the Lok Sabha and to merely 48 seats in the Vidhan Sabha! But the most significant point is that even the vertical split in the Congress could not save the SS-BJP regime from the wrath of the and from its own doom. INC-NCP-led Democratic Front government assumed the reins of power in Maharashtra in October 1999.
Far from gaining power
The Shiv Sena – BJP alliance failed to capture power since then. The decline of Shiv Sena’s popularity continues. The revolt of Raj Thackery and formation of Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS) spell a disaster for Shiv Sena in 2009 giving the Congress-NCP alliance reins of power in Maharashtra once again.
In 2009 assembly elections too the seats won by both the Shiv Sena (SS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declined: the Shiv Sena by 18 and the BJP by 8. The seats of the SS-BJP combine declined by 26, from 116 to just 90. This is its lowest tally ever – in 1990, when they first fought together it was 94, in 1995 when they won it was 138, in 1999 when they lost in spite of the INC and NCP fighting separately it was 125, and in 2004 it was 116. Moreover, it is for the first time in the last two decades since the SS-BJP alliance was formed in 1989 that the Shiv Sena has won less seats in the state assembly than the BJP. Thus the leader of the opposition in the assembly this time could well be from the BJP. This will be an additional source of heartburn and friction between the two.
BJP has marginally increased its vote percentage, the Shiv Sena has lost 3.7 per cent. The SS-BJP combine has lost 3.4 per cent. In the Lok Sabha polls held five months ago, the SS-BJP had got 35.2 per cent, which has now declined by 4.9 per cent.
The MNS and its leader Raj Thackery are proving to be taking away the political legacy of Shiv Sena. Threatened by these developments, Shiv Sena is intensifying its campaign of terror and hetrad. Therefore the recent attack on CNN-IBN group Television channels is neither the first not will be the lost.