It is a year since chief minister Ekanth Shinde brought down the government – of which he was a part – and established his own in coalition with the BJP. He split the Shiv Sena, a once formidable regional party. In the year gone by, the Marathi Manoos – the sons of the soil – are confused about whom to follow.
For the Marathi people of Mumbai, the Shiv Sena is not a political party but an emotion which has grown with them through the 57 years of the party’s existence. At a time when Bombay was opened up to people from all over the country as a city where aspirations and dreams were realised, the Shiv Sena founder, late Balasaheb Thackeray, through his oratory and cartoons, created a mass movement against the inter-state migrants. This was the time when the Marathi people were struggling to find jobs other than those they were traditionally employed in. Thackeray spoke about the Marathi identity and set about driving out the South Indians and others who were employed in large numbers in the various government and private offices across Bombay. This singular factor bound the Marathi people to Thackeray and his Shiv Sena.
In the years that followed, the party through various programmes addressed the aspirations of the Marathi Manoos, lending them a voice. The Shiv Sena set up kattas (places to sit in small groups) where newspaper vendors kept free newspapers for people to read. This became a popular meeting point for senior citizens to connect with each other, physically and through the newspapers. These kattas buzzed with activity as the old and young debated on the political happenings across the country and the world. The Shiv Sena shakhas became the go-to place for the common Marathi people to find solutions to their problems including health, education, family etc.
Soon Thackeray became an icon for the youth and the large-scale support to the party from this quarter did not go unnoticed by the others vying for the same space. The Shiv Sena unions penetrated the private sector forcing them to provide employment to the Marathi Manoos, a fact much cheered by the community.
Even when Thackeray was alive, there were leaders such as Chhagan Bhujbal (now with the NCP) who had split away from the Shiv Sena chief and his party. Shiv Sainiks had vowed to make Bhujbal pay for his actions. In the years – particularly after Uddhav Thackeray was anointed as the political heir of the party founder - many others of stature have moved out of the party. However, when the then Minister for Urban Development and senior party leader Eknath Shinde walked out of the Shiv Sena with the support of the BJP, he splintered the party dealing it a severe blow.
In the year since Shinde took over as the CM, his rivalry with the Thackerays and their supporters has taken on monstrous proportions. While the leaders at the top are clear about their rivalries, the Shiv Sainiks are confused. At the lower rungs of the party a majority of the Shiv Sainiks are friends, but the increasing rivalry between Thackeray and Shinde now threatens even this friendship.