When a cow is chased by a pack of tigers, it runs and tires but even before it falls to the ground, the tigers are upon it, mauling and tearing it apart.
Something like that is happening to the Shiv Sena.
Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo, died on November 17. A month after his death, the Shiv Sena under its new head, Uddhav Thackeray, is in retreat — still on its feet but injured. And predators have begun circling.
But let’s begin at the beginning. Bal Thackeray could not prevent the break-up of the Shiv Sena clan. Nephew Raj was cast out by the family and chose to build his own party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Initially it broke his heart. But later, for a while, he joined the attack on Raj, asking him not to use his name to further his politics.
But the most practical of men, a few months before he died, Balasaheb called both son Uddhav and nephew Raj for a meeting. “Both of you are losing ground,” he told the cousins. “What’s the point? You should reach an agreement.” Without suggesting a merger of the two parties (because, as a Shiv Sainik said, ghoda and gaadi – or assets – are important for every leader, no matter how small), Thackeray brokered an agreement of sorts: The MNS could contest six Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra where there was no Shiv Sena or Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, of which two would be from Mumbai. Both the BJP and the Shiv Sena would help. And adjustments could be struck for the local and Assembly elections.
Balasaheb was gone before the agreement could be formalised. When Raj got the news, he went to Matoshree immediately. But news from MNS lieutenants who accompanied him filtered out: there was no separate area for Raj to sit; he was treated like any other party worker. Everyone in the house who had attended to Balasaheb when he was ill was assigned a role in the cremation. Raj was overlooked, his associates said, not even asked to help light the pyre.
Immediately after, Uddhav threw down the gauntlet to the cadres. Who would help organise the memorial meeting for Balasaheb at Shivaji Park?
Logically, Shiv Sainiks and MNS workers should have done it together. But relations had deteriorated so much that Shiv Sainiks from as far afield as Parel and Thane had to be called — and not Dadar, one of the Sena strongholds once upon a time, because the area is now controlled by the MNS. So, MNS workers stood by sullenly and watched. There was no support for the memorial move, moral or material. And when the government ordered that the memorial be dismantled, after initial resistance, the Shiv Sena quietly complied — simply because the cadres were just not there. The high-minded explanation that is being given now is that such a memorial would have been illegal. But since when has the law stopped the Shiv Sena? Totally alienated from one another, the cousins resumed their cold war, except that it wasn’t cold any more.
In the Assembly session that followed in Nagpur, the Shiv Sena tried to move a no-confidence motion against the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government on the grounds that corruption and inefficiency of the government needed to be exposed. But the BJP did not back the Shiv Sena because it felt the move was premature. The MNS opposed it outright and publicly. The result was the isolation of the Shiv Sena but once again, the cadres were clearly being asked to choose a side: between the “real” Shiv Sena and poseurs who actually wanted perpetuation of the government.
The net result is instead of signalling what the Shiv Sena stands for, Uddhav is defining the Shiv Sena by invoking and claiming Balasaheb’s name. In the current environment, this is just not enough. Raj, on the other hand, is making no moves for any sort of rapprochement. Instead, he’s trying to tell cadres and voters: I will come to the aid of the helpless, the dispossessed, I will be the shield between the “invaders” and the Maharashtrians. I will resurrect the real Shiv Sena.
There is another aspect to the tussle for Balasaheb’s legacy that needs attention, and that is the interest Sharad Pawar is taking in the matter. When Manohar Joshi, one of the seniormost members of the Shiv Sena, recently said Pawar was the person most suited to be India’s next prime minister, the signal he was sending to his party was: I am about to jump ship, so those who want to join me, should think of doing so too. Pawar’s NCP has nine members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha currently. He reckons if he gets 15 or 20, he can play a big role when it is time to form the new government. The Shiv Sena has 11 Lok Sabha seats. In the next few weeks, tentative nibbles will begin. In the 2009 general elections, the Shiv Sena and the NCP were pitted against each other in 12 seats. How many will the Shiv Sena contest for in 2014 and how many will it win against the NCP is a big question mark.
If a leader of the stature of Pramod Mahajan had been around, he would have knocked a few heads together and brokered an agreement between the cousins. But there is no one who can do that now. So, if the Shiv Sena has to survive, it needs to think of a strategy fast.