With the roads now seemingly clear for a combined Shiv Sena- Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress government in Maharashtra led by Uddhav Thackeray it is the victory of the Marathi Manoos in Mumbai. For the victorious, or rather the Shiv Sena and the NCP, it represents the defeat of the ‘outsiders’ lobby because both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP leader Amit Shah hail from Gujarat. ‘Outsiders’ might be a wrong way of describing the top BJP bosses, but that’s how they are looked at by the Shiv Sena and NCP (even though they may not say so openly).
The Shiv Sena formed by the late Balasaheb Thackeray in the 1960s came up as representing the lower-middle-class Marathis in Mumbai (then Bombay) who were resentful of outsiders who controlled the economy of what they thought was their own city. This included the Gujaratis, who through their acumen in business, controlled the city which was created by the English after they entered the western coast of India to do business. The south Indians who took up the jobs offered in Bombay were also resented. However, Bombay was an agnostic city – partial to business but not to any particular community.
In 1960, more than a decade after India became independent the Bombay state created by the British was carved out to form Maharashtra and Gujarat. This was after a Samyukta Maharashtra movement. Bombay city – which was the centre of economic activities –was awarded to Maharashtra. This was much to the disappointment of Gujaratis who thought they had first right over Bombay (Bombay was created by the English and this led to the choking of Surat (in southern Gujarat) which had hitherto been the most important port on the Arabian Sea). They, however, remained in Bombay unobtrusively never drawing attention to themselves but creating wealth for themselves and the city. In Gujarat, a huge number of them informally consider Bombay, the capital of Gujarat and the place to go to!
The entry of the Modi-Amit Shah duo
The Shiv Sena, which roughly represented the same right-wing policies as the BJP combined with the latter from the mid-1990s to control the state of Maharashtra in order to sideline the Congress which had been the dominant political force till then. The Shiv Sena then only a strident political force to take up the cause of Marathi Manoos was slowly diversifying its agenda to take up the Hindu cause like the BJP. For Shiv Sena it would be an equal partner with the BJP and would hold their combined cause in Maharashtra. In the early elections after they tied up the Shiv Sena and BJP would get almost equal seats in the state assembly elections. But things began to change as the Modi-Amit Shah duo became the most potent force in the BJP. They put the young and unknown Devendra Fadnavis as the chief minister of Maharashtra after the 2014 elections for strategic reasons. Being from an RSS family from Nagpur, Fadnavis was seen as a protégé of RSS and thus had support from them. Yet, at the same time, Fadnavis’ elevation would sideline Nitin Gadkari (who had earlier been a minister in Maharashtra under the Shiv Sena chief minister Manohar Joshi; and also the BJP president and the RSS candidate for Prime Minister before Nagpur looking at the win-ability factor plumped for Modi). Gadkari was inducted as an important cabinet minister in the Modi government.
Like it was in the rest of India, the political equations were changing in Maharashtra after the entry of Modi. The statistics demonstrates this clearly. In the 2009 assembly elections: the Shiv Sena got 45 seats and the BJP won 46 seats. But in 2014 the BJP won 122 seats and the Shiv Sena won 63 seats and in 2019 the BJP wrested 105 seats as against 56 seats won by Shiv Sena. Thus from being the senior partner in the alliance, the Shiv Sena has now been relegated to a junior position. This is which is being resented by the Shiv Sena, which is a regional outfit in Maharashtra.
It now finds it profitable to be in bed with NCP, which is also another regional outfit of Maharashtra that is led by old warhorse Sharad Pawar. One time an aspirant for the position of Prime Minister of India, Pawar is now looking for relevance in this changing political world dominated by Modi and Shah. He is also miffed by recent cases filed against him by Enforcement Directorate and believes that if he does not fight back politically he could well be in trouble. The wily Pawar has always maintained good relations across the political spectrum. Although on the other side of the political divide, Pawar from western Maharashtra had great personal relations with Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. Though the founder is now deceased, this came in handy for the Shiv Sena and NCP to enter into an alliance recently. The Congress which is getting marginalised across the country has also lent support and has become part of this alliance.
An uphill task
But the political duo of Modi and Amit Shah can’t be taken lightly. Smarting under the fall of the three-day-old Devendra Fadnavis government, the top duo will certainly be planning moves that will destroy the Shiv Sena-NCP combine. What they will do is not yet clear but the Modi-Amit Shah duo cannot afford to be seen as being defeated. This could encourage opposition forces to rear their heads to challenge the duo in different parts of the country. Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar has quite a job at hand: he can’t allow the ranks of the Shiv Sena to raise their ante and target business in Mumbai. This could be absolutely disastrous because it could cause much resentment.
Kingshuk Nag is an author and a journalist.