The party initially decried politics, but later joined it. The Sena supported the Congress and its competing factions, socialists and even the Muslim League and Dalit parties for power. After flirting with “practical socialism” for a brief while, the party finally cemented an enduring tie-up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1989 on the Hindutva plank after a failed attempt in 1984.
While asserting the sons-of-soil agenda, Sena began on an anti-South Indian platform and in the ’80s moved to hardline Hindutva, later shifting its ire to North Indians.
Roza Deshpande, former Communist Party of India parliamentarian and daughter of veteran communist SA Dange, who was one of Thackeray’s targets says the Sena has always indulged in “politics of convenience”.
“Congress was responsible for Sena’s set-up and Ramrao Adik (of Congress) was on stage when it was launched… opposition to the communists was Sena’s purpose,” she said, adding that the Sena had taken self-contradictory but convenient stands.
Reader at Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Jaideo Dole, said that while Sena was used by Congress to under-cut the Left, later it became the proverbial Frankenstein’s monster for Congress.
Flip-flops by the Sena and Thackeray, in the initial days, were numerous. At its first public meet in in 1966, Thackeray had decried politics as a gajkarna (disease), only to take the plunge later. It got Sudhir Joshi elected as the mayor with support from the Muslim League though a poll plank of the Sena during the civic polls was the Muslim corporators’ opposition to Vande Mataram!
The Sena also forged a short-lived alliance with the Muslim League in 1979 and Thackeray and the League’s GM Banatwala held a public meeting in Nagpada. The Sena indulged in clashes with Buddhist Dalits, who were seen as challengers to the Hindu faith, only to smoke the peace pipe with Dalit leaders Namdeo Dhasal and Ramdas Athavale later. In 1984, when the Sena flirted with the idea of “practical socialism”, former bugbear Dange was invited to address the Sena cadre at Dadar.
Thackeray supported the Emergency and the Congress in the 1977 polls. Sena leaders Pramod Navalkar and Wamanrao Mahadik got legislative council berths after Sena supported then chief minister AR Antulay and campaigned for his victory in 1980. Sena’s first mayor Dr Hemchandra Gupte quit the party after Sena supported the Congress’s Murli Deora in 1977 mayoral polls.
However, the Sena-Congress alliance fell through over non-resolution of mill workers’ strike. This helped Sena tap into the anti-Congress sentiment in Girangaon (mill area) and in 1982, Thackeray shared the dais with Sharad Pawar Congress(S) and socialist leader George Fernandes at the annual Dusshera rally, calling for the Congress to be defeated!
In 1984, Sena and BJP tied up for the Lok Sabha, but soon parted ways. The Sena-BJP’s fortunes took a turn in 1989 when the parties allied again. Riding on the crest of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation and disenchantment with Congress, Sena’s tally rose in the state assembly from one in 1985 to 52 in 1990.
Finally, the saffron alliance wrested power from the Congress, and Sharad Pawar with whom he has a love-hate relationship, in 1995 but lost it in 1999.