Shiv Sena is a party that grew and expanded against the backdrop of a regional chauvinistic agenda and right-wing Hindu politics that often advocated disenfranchisement of Muslims. But although the party claims to uphold the legacy of its founder Pal Thackeray, it has undergone a tangible transformation under the leadership of his son and current Maharashtra Chief Minister Udav Thackeray. This change, according to observers, has more to do with expediency and political constraints in outperforming the BJP on Hindutva issues than with any desire to abandon the kind of politics that has kept it at the fore in state politics for decades.
In 1970, the party was involved in the Bhewandi and Jalgaon riots in which 82 people lost their lives, while the 1993 Srikrishna Commission Report on Sectarian Violence accused Thackeray of directing a program of anti-Muslim violence in Mumbai between December 1992 and January 1993.
Amid the uproar caused by BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments about the prophet, Uddhav Thackeray on June 8 challenged the BJP to an open debate on Hindutva and accused his party’s former ally of stoking communal sentiment for political gain. At the Swabhiman gathering at Shiv Sena in Aurangabad, CM said, “What the (BJP) spokesperson said did not make sense. She insulted the messenger… So what was the need? Why? Because of the BJP spokesperson, the country is being insulted… The crime was perpetrated by the BJP party. BJP and not the state. Why do we apologize? Why should the country suffer and be ashamed because of a BJP spokesperson?”
Sina appears to have softened her stance on many issues since National Congress Party (NCP) Chairman Sharad Pawar successfully entered into an alliance with his party and Congress in 2019. In the past two years, the party has been led by Thackeray, which now defines the BJP As his greatest political enemy, he has made a number of public statements that go against Hindutva’s stated policies.
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In January 2020, after a Mumbai woman was booked for holding a sign referring to “Free Kashmir” during a protest against violence at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), MP Shiv Sena Sanjay Raut sought her defense by Explain that the sign demands freedom. Of the restrictions imposed on the people of Kashmir after the abolition of Section 370 a few months ago, not secession.
Commenting on the JNU attack, CM compared it to the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. “I sympathize with their feelings. Young people are the cornerstone of our society’s future. We need to empower them,” he said.
Earlier, he had equated a stinging police charge of students of the Islamic University of New Delhi during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) with the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Incidentally, Sena MPs voted for CAA in Lok Sabha but abstained in Rajya Sabha after pressure from Congress.
Nobody’s rights will be taken away. “The government is strong enough to protect the rights of citizens of all faiths,” Thackeray said while trying to allay the fears of Muslims in Maharashtra about the proposed National Register of Citizens.
According to political observers, despite this apparent softening, Sena could never make the leap from an organization with apparent Hindutva instincts into a dyed secular party. In April, with growing concern in a section of the party about Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) setting the agenda in the mosque’s Hanuman Chalisa speaker ring and criticizing the opposition for “abandoning Hindutva”, Thackeray defined his party’s Hindutva brand as nationalist rather than sectarian. .
“Those who are telling us about Hindutva now, I ask them, what have you all done for Hindutva? Days after the arrest of lawmakers Navnit and Ravi Rana for threatening to recite Hanuman Chalisa outside his home ‘Mattushree’ if loudspeakers are not removed from mosques, said the Prime Minister, When the Babri Mosque was demolished, I hid.
Uddhav also tried to break out of his father’s towering shadow. Last month, he said he was not “naive” like his father and could see the BJP’s “agenda”.
According to political observers, the generational shift in party leadership, which will eventually lead to the wand’s transition to Aditya Thackeray, may be one reason why Sena is trying to shed her hard-line image. Aditya, a minister in the state government, is keen to create the identity of a leader who champions progressive social values.
But there is still a limit Sena can tone down her messaging as she can still benefit from Hindutva electoral issues. This is why even while criticizing the BJP for its version of Hindutva, CM recently stated again that he had not forgotten his father’s promise to rename Aurangabad to Sambhaji Nagar.