Thursday, June 13, 2024

Type of Hindutva, Bal Thackeray’s legacy…? How voters see Senas in Maharashtra

When asked, “Which party do you support this election?” the answer was immediate: “Shiv Sena.” However, it was unclear which faction they meant. “Oh, Thackeray Sena,” one replied. “Shinde’s Sena,” said another. The supporter of Uddhav Thackeray explained, “I support Bal Thackeray’s ideology, and that’s why I back his son’s party.” The second person echoed a similar sentiment but with a key difference: “I support Shinde because Bal Thackeray’s Hindutva ideology is more strongly propagated by Shinde.”

After the 2019 assembly elections in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena underwent significant changes. In 2019, Uddhav Thackeray ended his 35-year alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By 2022, Eknath Shinde challenged Uddhav, causing a split within the Sena and taking control of the party’s name and symbol. Uddhav’s faction is contesting the 2024 Lok Sabha elections as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition, alongside the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Meanwhile, the Shinde-led group is aligned with the National Democratic Alliance, which includes the BJP and the NCP faction led by Ajit Pawar.

The late Bal Thackeray, founder of the Shiv Sena, allied with the BJP based on their shared Hindutva ideology. This alliance was built on the belief that both parties had similar ideologies and could support the interests of Maharashtrians. Thackeray’s Shiv Sena opposed “immigrants” who, in their view, undermined Maharashtrian identity, as well as “secular parties” that they believed treated Muslims favorably.

Eknath Shinde claimed that Uddhav Thackeray leveraged his father’s legacy to garner support in the state but strayed from his ideals, leading to a rift within the party. He alleged that the Sena failed to acknowledge the significant contributions of other trusted regional leaders. Several leaders who joined Shinde’s faction have repeatedly stated that Uddhav’s decision to leave the BJP alliance and join forces with the Congress and the NCP under Sharad Pawar as chief minister was the breaking point. Shinde and his supporters frequently cite Bal Thackeray’s strong condemnation of any alliance with the Congress or NCP, emphasizing that Bal Thackeray had declared such a move would dissolve the party.

Describing it as an “unnatural alliance,” Shinde, along with 40 other MLAs, revolted and formed a government in support of the BJP. Subsequently, Ajit Pawar broke away from the NCP with several MLAs to support this new government. While Shinde framed his actions as a move to honor Bal Thackeray’s ideology, Uddhav denounced it as an act driven by greed.

The split in the Shiv Sena has added to the confusion and choices for voters.

Those who originally supported the Shiv Sena for its pro-Hindutva stance now often lean towards the BJP. Voters seeking regional representation can choose between the Sena UBT and the Shinde Sena.

For Shiv Sena Uddhav faction voters, two main interests prevail. Secular voters support Shiv Sena UBT, which is part of the INDIA alliance at the national level, as they aim to defeat Modi. Muslims also back the UBT faction because they view it as a strong opponent of the BJP and Narendra Modi, whom they perceive as a threat to their existence.

Meanwhile, the AIMIM, which has the only Muslim MP in Maharashtra—a state where 12% of the population is Muslim—argues that all factions of the Sena, regardless of their differences, adhere to a Hindutva ideology that promotes Islamophobia. They highlight the Sena’s history of anti-Muslim violence in their election speeches.

The VBA, led by Prakash Ambedkar, also occasionally joins in questioning the Sena’s secular credentials. Despite this, most Muslim voters in the state, except in Aurangabad where AIMIM contests, primarily support the UBT Sena. They see the UBT Sena as a key opponent of the NDA.

Elaborating on the difference between the Hindutva of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena (UBT), Maharashtra former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in his election speeches have been claiming that their brand of Hindutva “lights the stoves” in people’s homes and the BJP’s Hindutva “burns their homes.”

Syed Hussain, a taxi driver, believes the INDIA alliance will win in Mumbai, regardless of the party. “NCP, Shiv Sena UBT, Congress—whichever party, they will win. People have understood that the BJP is cheating them. They see that the BJP is using the ED and CBI to intimidate everyone. The main issue here is that Eknath Shinde betrayed the Shiv Sena.”

Mohammad Farooqui, a real estate broker in Dharavi, says to Maktoob, “We voted for Uddhav Thackeray Saab. But Shinde stayed with the party and sided with the BJP. He did wrong. None of the Marathi people consider the BJP their party.”

Meanwhile, many voters are confused about which forces to back. On one side is Thackeray’s name, but they also want Modi.

Shiv Sena workers who aim to make Modi Prime Minister again discuss their options. However, most people are reluctant to vote for Uddhav Thackeray’s faction. Traditionally, Shiv Sena supporters want Modi as Prime Minister, but the Shinde faction, having “betrayed” Uddhav Thackeray, does not want to support Shiv Sena Shinde. Nevertheless, none of them want to see Rahul Gandhi as their leader.

Shinde, a Mumbai driver, says, “Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena will win in Maharashtra, and Uddhav has my support. But for PM choice, I like Modi. Rahul Gandhi is not at all an option.” “Whoever they (Sena UBT) support is not our concern. We are Balasaheb Thackeray’s ranks. However, I don’t think the regime will change. Modi will remain Prime Minister.”

In the last phase of elections in the state, five constituencies will see a direct fight between the Shiv Sena led by Shinde and Uddhav’s Shiv Sena (UBT).

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