His party: shifting alliances, single agenda

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.

"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, 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 shakhas. Each locality of Mumbai has a shakha, headed by the shakha pramukh who is the link between the party and the citizen.

When the time came to name a heir, he chose son Uddhav over nephew Raj. In 2005, Raj quit to launch a rival party, with the Sena's agenda and stealing part of its vote bank. Over the years, the death or exit of several leaders has affected the Sena. It today faces the challenge of holding on to its old-time loyalists and attracting young urban recruits. Uddhav's son Aaditya was introduced as Yuva Sena chief two years ago.

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