Bal Thackeray's party: Shifting alliances, single agenda

Bal Thackeray

"Aawaj Kunacha? Shiv Senecha." It translates into, "Who's got the voice? Shiv Sena."

It's a slogan that people across Maharashtra easily connect with the Shiv Sena. Whatever its ideology — hardline, Hindutva-oriented, Pakistan-hating, right-wing ideology, sons-of-the-soil — the Shiv Sena always made noises that were always loud and clear.

Formed in 1966, the Shiv Sena (literary Shivaji's army) raised a voice for Marathis in demanding jobs, fighting for their rights in governance, and addressing their issues with a strong dose of identity politics. The party, which is largely authoritative in nature, has been dominated and single-handedly run by cartoonist and leader Bal Thackeray. Aggressive, often violent and diehard, party workers would be ready to take to the streets on the call of their chief.

"It is very much an individual-centric party, an informal monolithic structure, with an urban focus and close geographical connections with dominant Marathi middle-class localities," says B Venkateshkumar, political scientist with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. "The good part of the single authority was the formation of a disciplined and focused cadre but the flip side was that it left little room for democracy and dialogue."

The party today has 28 wings and organs, Thackeray's son Uddhav as executive president to handle its daily affairs, 10 leaders and a very close-knit party cadre, connected through the unique concept of shakhas. Each locality of Mumbai has a shakha, headed by the shakha pramukh who is the most prominent contact point between the party and the citizen. Sena workers have climbed the ladder within the party from this basic post to become MLAs.

As the time came for the ageing Thackeray to name a heir, he chose son Uddhav over active nephew Raj. In 2003, during a party session at Mahabaleshwar, a new post as working president was created and Uddhav appointed. Two years later, Raj quit to launch a rival party, picking up the Sena's agenda and stealing part of its vote bank.

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