Despite its monolithic and autocratic structure, the Shiv Sena is no stranger to the process of splits and defections that is inevitable in the trajectory of most political formations. However, the rebellion of Urban Development Minister and Thane strongman Eknath Shinde, which saw most members of the Shiv Sena’s legislative wing walk away, poses the most serious existential threat to the party led by the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
There is talk of the new group claiming the legacy of Bal Thackeray party supremo and the Hindutva activist creed, which the rebels say was diluted after Uddhav joined the “secular” Congress and Nationalist Congress Party ( NCP) to form a government. in Maharashtra in 2019.
The Shiv Sena now faces a daunting task – as well as fighting the seemingly losing battle to ensure Uddhav retains his chief ministerial presidency, he will have to ensure he retains power in Mumbai’s civic bodies and Thane, which are crucial to its politics. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is India’s wealthiest civic body, was controlled by the Sena between 1985 and 1992, and again from 1997 to date. Many full-time party workers survive on the loot that trickles through the networks of power in the civic body, and this “reward economy” helps keep the party organization in good shape.
However, although Shinde and his rebels have caused a vertical split in the Shiv Sena’s support base, party loyalists make a compelling case that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Shiv Sena is distinguished from other political parties by its solid organizational and popular networks, particularly within the working classes, allowing it to dominate the streets of Mumbai. As its members often note, the Sena is first an organization, then a political party. This culture of machismo and “direct action” prompted scholars such as Julia M. Eckert to describe the Shiv Sena as “one party, one movement, and one gang all rolled into one.”
Although this machismo has been tempered by the city’s gradual gentrification, the party still retains strong organizational muscle. Despite the mutiny within its ranks, the common Shiv Sainik has an emotional connection to the late party supremo and his family, and this can be used by the Shiv Sena for his revival.
For example, Arvind Bhosale, a party worker from Worli, refused to use shoes until Narayan Rane, who fell out with the Sena in 2005, was defeated in the polls. Bhosale was finally able to wear his chappals in 2014, when Rane lost to Kudal in Sindhudurg. Insiders say that if it is to rise from the ashes, the Shiv Sena will have to end the saturation that has set in and revive its organizational structure. After all, it was this network that helped the party overcome previous disturbances.
Few people know that the organizational structure of the party, which can surpass rival parties, can be attributed to an elder of Sangh Parivar – Datta Pradhan. The initial structure of the Sena shakha was unwieldy and one shakha covered a huge geographical expanse. Pradhan, a Jan Sangh man who joined the Shiv Sena in 1969 but left in 1977, remodeled it to each cover a municipal district, giving the organization a strong local presence of 227 shakhas in the city. The shakha forms the basic organizational unit of the Shiv Sena and has a network extending to the ordinary Shiv Sainik, the gata pramukh and the shakha pramukh, who is the head of this branch. A collection of shakhas constitutes a “vibhag” or division which corresponds to a Lok Sabha constituency in the city of Mumbai. A vibhag is headed by a vibhag pramukh who has upavibhag pramukhs for individual constituencies of the assembly to assist him. These division heads play an important role in the Shiv Sena – even aspirants to nominations for assembly seats must get their recommendation.
As the party expanded its footprint outside of Mumbai, its party structure also led to the creation of three party secretaries and a national executive which includes these three secretaries, deputy chiefs, district chiefs and state unit heads, all of whom Uddhav Thackeray called for a meeting on Saturday as he works to save the party.
The Shiv Sena was a child of its time – it was born in 1966 as a reflection of the existential anxieties of Maharashtrians who felt disenfranchised and threatened in the state capital of Maharashtra, which had formed there six years.
The changing cultural, social, linguistic and economic landscapes brought about by Mumbai’s transition from a manufacturing hub to a service hub in the post-modern era has led to a new set of anxiety for these masses. Ironically, the elephant in the room is the Shiv Sena’s alleged complicity in the process. He was a silent onlooker as the city’s textile factories, whose workers were part of a vigorous labor movement, lay in disrepair and its major real estate assets were taken over by sharks. Maharashtrians, who were already the largest minority and not the majority in Mumbai, have been forced to migrate beyond its municipal boundaries. Sena executives are also reputed to have a stake in the real estate sector, which is responsible for the astronomical cost of living in Mumbai, which hurts the working and middle classes.
More importantly, to ensure its survival, the Shiv Sena will also need to develop an ideology and political program and move beyond grandstanding, emotional issues or knee-jerk reactions to take a forward-looking stance on issues such as economic policy. , gender justice, environmentalism. and sustainable development. It can also help the party to emerge as a true regional party with a pan-Maharashtrian presence like the political formations in South India.
In 1984, SA Dange, a doyen of Indian communism, who had by then been expelled from the Communist Party of India (CPI), was invited to address Shiv Sena cadres. Then Sena leader Bal Thackeray was briefly captivated by the concept of “scientific socialism.” In his speech, the polymath noted that the Achilles heel of the Shiv Sena was that the organization had no theory (an ideological position) and that it was impossible for an organization to survive without one.
Therein lies a deeper problem, and perhaps the solution for the party.