To reach out to a larger Hindu constituency, apart from its core Maharashtrian vote base, the Shiv Sena may return to its Hindutva agenda, riding on the wave of public sentiment after the August 11 riots at Azad Maidan.
On Monday, as Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray went to the martyrs’ memorial at Azad Maidan which had been desecrated by the rioters, posters with the Sena’s “Garv se kaho hum hindu hain (Proclaim with pride that we are Hindus)” slogan lined the route.
A Shiv Sena MP admitted that they may have to resurrect the Hindutva agenda to spread their wings and secure their base in rural Maharashtra before the 2014 polls, as the issue of Marathi identity had an impact largely only in urban centres. He pointed out that MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s agitation on the Azad Maidan issue had Hindutva shades.
“We may have to take recourse in the Hindutva agenda. This is a form of Hindu assertion,” said a Shiv Sena leader, admitting that they had used the “Garv se…” slogan after many years.
A prime reason why the Sena, which was formed in 1966 to uphold Marathi pride and find jobs for the sons of the soil, managed to expand outside the Mumbai-Thane belt was with the Hindutva campaign, especially during the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation.
Before the 2004 assembly polls, Uddhav began the ‘Mee Mumbaikar’ campaign in what was seen as an attempt to reach out to a wider electorate apart from Maharashtrians, whose numbers have dwindled in Mumbai. However, subsequent developments, including the launch of the MNS in 2006, led to the Sena putting the issue on the backburner to hold on to its core constituency of Maharashtrian voters, admit Sena insiders. “This campaign led to charges that we went soft on the issue of Marathi identity,” the Sena leader admitted.
Surendra Jondhale, professor and head of the Department of Civics and Politics at the University of Mumbai, pointed out that the Sena wanted to “cash in on the popular feelings which had erupted in Assam and Mumbai” by focusing on the Hindutva agenda. He added that except for hardcore party supporters, the issue would have little resonance elsewhere. He added that instead, the Sena needed to focus on the Marathi plank to checkmate the MNS.