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Playing into the Sena’s hands

» A private screening of Anand Patwardhan's significant documentary "War and Peace" is cancelled.
» A meeting on peace and communal harmony is denied police permission at the last minute.
» An exhibition of posters on the Gujarat violence is disallowed.
» The local police stops screening of two documentary films on Gujarat and the films are temporarily confiscated.

All these incidents have taken place in Mumbai in the last three months, in the capital of Maharashtra, which is ruled by a Congress government. The Shiv sena's strategy of scotching efforts to expose its communal character is working beautifully in Maharashtra thanks to the police and the State government.

Even though the Sena- Bharatiya Janata Party combine does not rule Maharashtra, the penetration of Shivsainiks into the police force seems to be ensuring that even in this state criticism of its partner’s actions in Gujarat is not voiced.

Giving in to the Shiv Sena has become the norm in Mumbai. As a result, successive Congress governments have contributed directly to the strength of the Shiv Sena, at least in its ability to bring the city to a standstill. Unfortunately, once again the Maharashtra government led by Vilasrao Deshmukh appears to be allowing the Shiv-sena to get its way.

Gujarat has a close relationship in particular with Mumbai.
Something that happens there is bound to have repercussions in the Maharashtra capital. But the desire to prevent the communal virus from spreading southwards from Gujarat does not mean the Government should stop all discussion on communalism and suppress the voices calling for harmony and peace.

The concerns and anxieties of Maharashtra’s working class about the ethnic character of Mumbai, have been used with skill by the Shiv Sena in the past. Maharashtrians form some 30 per cent of Mumbai’s population, and their feeling of linguistic marginalisation has been manipulated by the Sena to fuel its xenophobic agenda.

The communal venom that brought the Sena spectacular gains in the 1990s has not been exhausted. But Hindutva is no longer in the foreground of Sena polemic. Three and a half decades after its formation, the Shiv Sena has begun to reinvent itself in its original form.

Although the organisation had historically been anti-Muslim, the posture of the post-1984 period was strikingly new. It was, for one, cast as part of a larger Hindutva project, not just regional antagonism. Violent riots, starting with the anti-Muslim pogroms in Bhiwandi, Kalyan and Thane, and through similar butchery at Panvel, Nashik, Nanded and Amravati, marked this new direction taken by the Sena.

The Sena’s Hindutva face also allowed it to build bridges with those people it had only a decade ago considered as the enemy like south Indian Hindus. The new-model Sena, or rather the orientation of the old-model Sena, became evident at its 34th anniversary celebrations in June 2000. Thackeray’s address was full of communal venom. “Muslims cannot be trusted,” he said in the keynote address, “They are like snakes. You never know when they can turn around and bite you.”

But there were new elements as well. “Marathi industrialists like Kirloskar and Garware”, he complained, “have been replaced by Marwari businessmen.” The Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti’s Gajanan Kiritkar gave clear form to the new Sena thinking, arguing that “of the four parties in Maharashtra, we are the only one which is a truly regional party. Neither the BJP nor the Congress(I), not even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), can meet regional aspirations.” This was followed up with energetic campaigns to force shopkeepers to put up Marathi-language signboards, and demands for more recruitment of Maharashtrians in government-run institutions and corporations.

Time and again Sena has exploited BJP’s dependence on it for its survival in Maharastra.With the support of the NDA government taken for granted, Shiv sena has recently begun to target Muslims in a big way.

Thomas Blom Hansen, Associate Professor at Roskilde University in Denmark, author of The Saffron Wave: Democratic Revolution and Hindu Nationalism in India and an authority on the Shiv Sena-BJP combine’s policies in Maharashtra writes, “The BJP has probably reached its saturation point in the northern and western states, and to expand further in geographical terms, the party needs to make more alliances.” It needs “local ‘interpreters’ of the general idiom of Hindutva... who could generalise Hindu communalism into local vernaculars... to help the BJP to overcome its upper-caste bias and northern image,”. The only regional ally that subscribes to the credo of Hindutva is the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Other allies are far less enthusiastic, hence the so-called “National” Agenda for Governance that papers over the cracks between the BJP and its allies in the A.B. Vajpayee Government.

In Maharashtra, where the Shiv Sena enthusiastically endorses Hindutva, the BJP has had problems keeping pace with the Sena's erratic ways. In a revealing interview he gave Hansen on December 10, 1992, Pramod Mahajan said: “At this time (1984-85) the BJP could not anticipate what was happening in the Hindu mind, but the Shiv Sena was the first to see it. So, Thackeray was the first to go for the Hindu line. Slowly from 1985-87, (the) Shiv Sena was solely in charge of the Hindu wave in the country... My problem was that if I am not with the Shiv Sena then the Shiv Sena would slowly kill me and capture my entire constituency. If you cannot beat them you join them... It was a precise political expediency if you want.” The two fed on each other.

The success of the early Shiv Sena, wrote Jayant Lele in a 1995 essay, lay in the “unstable political context, and the growing inability of the state to govern. The Shiv Sena was in that context a populist eruption. It thrived parasitically on diffused and generalised discontent". Three decades on, things appear alarmingly similar.

Ironically the Democratic Front government has even sought to compete with the Hindu Right, sponsoring official Shivaji Jayanti celebrations in February.Time and again home minister Chhagan Bujbal has shown his anti-Muslim bias. It is high time DF government proves its secular credentials by sincerely checking communal forces in the state.

¯ MHLakdawala in Mumbai

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