Authorised Biography of the Shiv Sena
The Sena Story
By Vaibhav Purandare
Business Publications Inc, Mumbai 1999 Pages 462, Price Rs. 250
This is the focus of the early part of the book where the author has relied on two rigorously academic studies done by Mary Katzenstein (1979) and Dipankar Gupta (1982). Besides there are a number of interviews with aging socialist and communist leaders who once strode the city and who provide a number of incisive though critical insights into the early years of the Shiv Sena.
The Shiv Sena filled the vacuum created by the dismantling of the Left- led Samyukta Maharashtra movement after the main demands were met and a separate state of Maharashtra with Bombay as the capital was created and nobody was left to speak for the Marathi manoos. Later, according to the author, the city centric Sena struck a responsive chord in rural Maharashtra because of Sharad Pawar’s joining the Congress in 1986. Pawar’s co- option into the Congress left the traditionally anti- Congress backward castes with no choice but to support the Sena, which had been trying to make inroads under Chaggan Bhujbal.
Mrinal Gore, the veteran socialist leader from Bombay, however contends that the Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray have, despite their aggressive advocacy of jobs for the Maharashtrians, actually restricted their vision and have duped the working class Marathi youth.
She observes: “(Thackeray’s) appeal was to youngsters whose reasoning faculty wasn’t fully developed. He told them outsiders were taking away their jobs and suggested quick fix solution…another reason he caught the fancy of youngsters was that he told them not to read and increase their corpus of knowledge. He pooh- poohed all social, political and economic theories and told the youth these were useless. Thus, he kept the vision of the youngsters confined to the Marathi issue…he stunted the intellectual and cultural growth of Marathi youth”.
As the book progresses, the author chooses to increasingly rely on newspaper reports and journalistic flamboyance that he possesses in abundance.
The result is a book that, after the first few chapters, reads something between a racy potboiler and an American corporate success story. It could have been a good study of the Shiv Sena. That it is not so is indeed regrettable since there have been few studies of the Sena in recent years unlike that of the Sangh Parivar. Purandare has missed a chance to step into this void, since at a number of places he is incisive and there are flashes of serious journalism. Instead he has turned it into what is at best a narrative of the rise of the Sena (as the word “story” in the title indicates) and at worst into a hagiographic account of the Sena and its supremo Bal Thackeray.
He asserts: “The Left wing critics of the Sena always maintained that class exploitation and not ethnic competition deprived the Maharashtrians of economic strength, but the middle class Maharashtrian found the Sena’s position more convincing.” And what was the Sena’ position? Its position was to drive out the non- Maharashtrians by advocating reservation for the local Marathi speaking populace- so far, so good.
But it went beyond that. It resorted to strong- arm tactics and street smart justice. It resorted to intimidation, murder and outright terror, first against the South Indians, then the Communists, then Muslims and, by way of variety, against liberal individuals like AK Hangal and Dilip Kumar. Purandare recounts a number of such incidents, yet, all this does not diminish his enthusiasm either for the Sena or for Raman Fielding (as Rushdie characterized Bal Thackeray in The Moor’s Last Sigh).
The author’s celebration of what should actually have been a lament for the de- cosmopolitanization of Bombay is misplaced. That indeed is sad and a cause for concern.
Published: The Tribune 10 Oct 1999