Thursday, Oct 06, 2022

As New And Old Within Shiv Sena Try To Co-exist, Unhappy Cadres Sit Quietly At Home

Before Uddhav Thackeray resigned, the beleaguered chief minister woke up to the reality of maintaining a close connection with the shakhas. Some months earlier Outlook had visited the shakhas and met Shiv Sainiks, the old and the new, to gauge the extent of their disgruntlement. 

Supporters of Eknath Shinde.
Supporters of Eknath Shinde. Dinesh Parab

The driving force of the Shiv Sena – its cadre – had been unhappy for a long time with the moderation brought into the working of the party by its chief Uddhav Thackeray. Disillusioned that loud agitations are a thing of the past, as the new and old within the Shiv Sena tried to co-exist, unhappy cadres sit quietly at home. They are the core strength of the Shiv Sena, and had wanted its chief to connect with them and chart a future course for the party. In the absence of this, the chasm between the leader and the Sainiks had widened to such a stage that eventually led to the CM’s resignation today. 

Before he resigned, the beleaguered chief minister woke up to the reality of maintaining a close connection with the shakhas. Some months earlier Outlook had visited the shakhas and met Shiv Sainiks, the old and the new, to gauge the extent of their disgruntlement. 

A young, educated woman who had lived with her husband in China until a year ago, occupies one of the plastic chairs outside the office of Sanjay More, shahar pramukh (city chief) of the Shiv Sena in Pune. The woman, a mother of a six-month-old, claims to be a victim of domestic violence. Finding no redressal at the local police station, she knocked on the doors of the Nana Peth shakha (unit) of the Shiv Sena, for a solution to her domestic matter.

More listened intently and then called a female Sainik to take up the woman’s case. “Why do you take his beatings,” is her opening line. “Have you got no hands? Throw some mirchi powder into his eyes and he will never touch you again,” is the female Sainik’s solution to the problem. More interjected saying that the woman wanted to go back to her marital home. The female Sainik stood up assuring More that the woman would be taken to her home later that evening. “Let me then see who throws her out,” said the female Sainik and walked out of the room with the victim in tow.

There are many more waiting outside the door. They seek admissions to colleges, beds in hospitals, salary issues, seeking discounts from builders for houses, alcoholic husbands indulging in domestic violence, relief from road rowdies and eve-teasing, employment and much more. “I know my problem will be solved at this shakha,” said a man waiting for an audience with More. “I have not approached any government person for my problem. A phone call or a letter from More saheb will ensure that my problem is solved,” said the man.

At every shakha in Maharashtra, the issues of women and senior citizens are addressed first – a diktat Bal Thackeray - the founder of the Shiv Sena - made mandatory. Over the years the shakhas have grown in number, though the number of Shiv Sainiks has dwindled, say those in the know of events. Anyone who wants to set up a shakha can do so and can also anoint themselves as the shakha pramukh. “Balasaheb believed that only someone who is motivated by the ideology of the Shiv Sena will start a shakha. So, there was the freedom to do so. The shahar pramukh vets the process,” said Ashutosh Mokashi, a senior Shiv Sainik. “Every shakha has people coming for redressal of their grievances through the day,” said Mokashi.  

The Shiv Sena started out as an organization in 1960 when Bal Thackeray – a cartoonist by profession – started Marmik, a magazine in Marathi. This magazine was inaugurated by Yeshwantrao Chavan, who was the then chief minister of Maharashtra. Then there was a Congress Party government in Maharashtra and Thackeray had an amicable relationship with the party’s leaders. Through Marmik, Thackeray started taking on various issues that affected the Marathi Manoos or the sons of the soil. On the sidelines, the Shiv Sena was taking shape as an organization.

Anti-establishment agitations or “thod-phod agitations” became a central part of the Shiv Sena. Thackeray’s aggressive posturing started drawing the youth to the organization. Though it was centred in Mumbai for several years, Thackeray encouraged its growth in neighbouring Pune, which is closely linked to the history of the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. According to a Sainik who has been with Thackeray since the inception of the organisation, the weaving of the Maratha ruler’s ideology as the Shiv Sena’s ideology came in much later as the organization evolved.      

It was Bal Thackeray’s father Keshav Thackeray who pushed him into turning the Shiv Sena into a political outfit. It went from being a service organization to a political organization on June 19, 1966. Talking about the birth of the Shiv Sena as a political organization, Pandharinath Sawant (87) an associate of Thackeray said, “We were sitting in a room in Dadar. Suddenly Balasaheb asked someone to bring a coconut. He broke it on the floor and that was the start of the Shiv Sena’s political journey. If Balasaheb sneezed in his house half of Mumbai would catch a cold. That was the power of the man,” said Sawant.

A cadre-based party, the Shiv Sena has a linear hierarchal system. The shakha pramukh is at the lowest rung of the ladder. The upward hierarchy includes: upa vibhag pramukh, vibhag pramukh, upa shahar pramukh, shahar pramukh, sampark mantri, upa neta and neta. The senior leaders of the party report directly to the Shiv Sena chief. According to the old-timers, Thackeray gave much importance to the shakhas as they worked directly with the grassroots. For the sake of effective administration of its shakhas, every district in Maharashtra had two parts – shahar (urban) and zilla (rural). According to a senior Shiv Sainik through agitational politics emerged powerful leaders at the grassroots. “Then we did not have to take permission for agitations. Every Sainik believed that unless there was thod phod no one listened to you. Balasaheb’s powerful oratory and style of functioning drew the youth to become Sainiks. Entire cadres of the CPI and the CPI-M joined the Shiv Sena,” said a senior Sainik to Outlook.   

Though many Marathi women were drawn to the Shiv Sena, the violent agitations kept them away. It is only after Meenatai, wife of Thackeray, started touring along with her husband did the strength of women Sainiks see an increase, said Rambhau Parikh (65), who has been a Shiv Sainik for the past 55 years. “The Shiv Sen has to go back to agitational politics if it has to survive. Power in the state has mellowed us and the cadres are itching for action. Sainiks are not people who will sit on the sidelines. We need action,” said Parikh, who is an acid attack survivor. The left side of his face, a damaged left eye and ear lobe bear the scars of the attack that took place due to political rivalry.

Ganesh Phadke (47) joined the Shiv Sena when he was 10 years old. His mother and other family members tried to dissuade him from becoming a Sainik. In later years, though his father supported his decision, there were regular disagreements with his mother on the subject. “The era of the Shiv Sena then and now is very different. I belong to Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena. When the Shiv Sena was an organization, agitational politics was our strength. Now it is a party and you see the difference,” said Phadke, who took to driving a tempo after huge business losses. “Then we were lauded for the agitations we did. We did not have to ask anyone. It is not the same now. We are chided if we agitate. In case we have to do any, it is drawn up and sent from Mumbai,” he told Outlook.

Cutting across rural and urban areas, Shiv Sainiks spoken to were unanimous about the party losing out on cadre due to the moderation that had set in. “Today the Shiv Sena is about money. Only those with money can rise, loyalty is not a factor anymore. The Sainiks at the lower levels do not know what to do. We will never leave the Shiv Sena. We are forced to sit quietly as Uddhav’s Sena is not Balasaheb’s Sena,” said a senior Sainik from Mumbai. 

There is a clear divide between those who owe their loyalties to Balasaheb – who passed away on November 17, 2012 – and Uddhav - his son and present-day party chief who is also the chief minister of Maharashtra. The old-timers strongly believe that Uddhav must travel across the state, re-establish links with the cadre and inject aggression into them. “Today, instead of thod phod, we are handing out memorandums. The cadre is getting disillusioned,” said a Sainik.

Every old-timer spoken to by Outlook, speaks of the golden era of the party which spanned from the 1980s to 1995 – a year when the party came to power in Maharashtra. “The downslide of the cadre started after the Shiv Sena installed its chief minister at Mantralaya. Agitations became sporadic. With Uddhavji and Aaditya, agitations have completely stopped. It is very difficult to meet our leaders in Mumbai. This lack of accessibility is hampering the growth of the party,” said another Sainik.

The Shiv Sena of the past boasted of one of the quickest message transmission services at a time when there were only landlines. “We either had a landline in the shakhas or in shops close to the shakhas. Any message from Balasaheb was communicated to us quickly. Within half an hour every shakha in Maharashtra would put out blackboards announcing Balasaheb’s message. Not anymore,” said Ashutosh Mokashi, a Sainik. Most of those who joined the Shiv Sena confess that they were attracted to Thackeray’s personality.

Present-day Shiv Sena is caught between the old and the new. There is a stark difference between Balasaheb’s Sena and Uddhav’s Sena. The new Sena, the one that has emerged as a ruler from being the rebel, is fighting for acceptability amongst its cadre. The father-son duo of Uddhav and Aaditya are transforming the once belligerent and violence-loving party into a moderate one to suit the current political environment. However, the cadre of the party is not too happy with this, as indicated in their conversations with Outlook.