It’s back to Hindutva for Shiv Sena after 11 August

The Tiger is roaring again. Posters of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray with the tagline Ekta Tiger - Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain have started to appear in Mumbai.

The aim it seems is to kill two birds with one stone. The Ekta Tiger part (possibly a pun on the superhit Ek Tha Tiger movie) is just to remind Mumbai that the original tiger of the city is still around, the roar of Raj Thackeray notwithstanding.  But it’s the second part which makes things more interesting.

Shiv Sena first took on the cause of Hindutva way back in 1984. As Vaibhav Purandare writes in  The Sena Story: “After having vacillated for some time…the Shiv Sena made a definite shift to Hindutva in 1984…Addressing a massive public rally at Shivaji Park on January 22, Bal Thackeray mooted the idea of a confederation of Hindu organisations, the Hindu Mahasangh.”

Thackeray explained the three point programme of Hindutva. “First, Muslims should like Hindus, adhere to one-marriage rule and resort to family planning…Second, they should extend their support to the ban on cow slaughter. And third, they should accept this is a Hindu Rashtra,” points out Purandare.  (The italics are of the author Purandare).

Soon after this the Shiv Sena joined hands with the Bharatiya Janta Party(BJP) for the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for December 1984. The late Pramod Mahajan was instrumental in getting this alliance going.

In an article that Mahajan wrote for the Sena mouthpiece Saamna in 1998 he says (as quoted in The Sena Story): “I still remember the discussions I had with Balasaheb in our first few meetings. He had entered the arena by taking up the cause of Hindutva. Once, in the course of our conversation, I told him: the Hindu votes as a Maratha, as a Mali, as a Dalit, as a Marwari, and as a Brahman, but he never votes as a Hindu. How will our politics be successful? Without a moment’s hesitation he replied: ‘Pramod, when I started the Shiv Sena, people said the same thing – that the Marathi manoos doesn’t vote as a Marathi. But I proved this assumption wrong. You’ll see that I will make Hindus vote as a Hindus. I was overpowered with emotion at this answer, but I hesitated to believe what he said. Now when I look behind, I see that he proved his word in just five years.” (The italics are of the author Purandare).

So from this one can easily conclude that Hindutva as a political strategy, which the BJP so successfully employed in the years to come, was really the brainchild of Bal Thackeray.

Over the years Hindutva helped the Sena spread itself much beyond Mumbai and its suburbs and helped attract people from other parts of Maharasthra. As Purandare writes: “The Sena set up its forts in villages in extravagant style, Sainiks bathed head-to-toe in saffron clothes and bandannas splashing gulal all over the place and shouting slogans of Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji, to the blowing of conch-shells and the accompaniment of leathern-drums, kettle drums and other musical instruments...The rapid rollout of the saffron carpet slowly induced significant numbers of rural youngsters to move forward and attach themselves to the Sena fold.”

Hindutva as a political strategy, which the BJP so successfully employed in the years to come, was really the brainchild of Bal Thackeray. AFP

While taking up the cause of the Marathi manoos helped the Sena firmly establish itself in Mumbai, it was Hindutva that helped it increase its presence across other parts of Maharashtra. In a way it was also responsible for the BJP taking Hindutva from Maharasthra to other parts of the country. Brand BJP was built on the war cry of “saugandh Ram ki khaate hain, mandir wohin banayenge”.  This ensured that the party was able to increase the number of seats in the Lok Sabha from two in 1984 to 88 in 1989 and 118 in 1991.

In the last few years the Shiv Sena has put Hindutva on the backburner as it has tried to widen its appeal and support base. As columnist Sujata Anandan wrote in the Hindustan Times in October 2010, “There was a time when they (the Muslims) were willing to experiment with the Shiv Sena in the wake of their disappointment with the Congress”. (You can read the complete column here).

But with Raj Thackeray trying to hijack Shiv Sena's cause with his latest rally at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai, Shiv Sena has had to get back to basics. While Raj Thackeray did not associate with the Hindutva cause anywhere directly in his speech - he, in fact, said Hindutva was not where he was headed - there are enough reasons to suggest that Thackeray Jr (the nephew) is trying to broaden his appeal and go beyond just the Marathi manoos stand that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena currently stands for.

“In 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished, where was its retaliation felt instantly? In Mumbai! There was no violence anywhere else in the country…only in Mumbai!” Raj Thackeray said in his speech. (You can read the complete translation of the speech by Gaurav Sabnis here).

Every political party is a brand and a brand needs to stand for something. It needs a story that can be told to people, so that people can go buy the brand by supporting it and by voting for it. Shiv Sena’s success has been built on the planks of Hindutva and taking up the cause of the Marathi manoos. That is what the brand Shiv Sena stands for.

When political parties try to fiddle with what their brand stands for they pay for it dearly. The BJP decided to abandon its soft-Hindutva branding and go in for what it thought was a more mass market campaign of “India shining” in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.  The party lost the elections and has been in opposition ever since.

More recently, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya tried to project a pro-industry image after 10 years as chief minister of West Bengal. The Left parties lost the 2011 state assembly elections in West Bengal badly.

In a sense, political parties trying to change what they stand for are like the Fair and Lovely fairness cream. The skin lightening cream, as it is technically referred to, was first launched in India in 1978. The advertising strategy for Fair and Lovely has always been something akin to "kaale ko gora bana de".

In fact in 2007, a Fair and Lovely advertisement, which showed a dark-skinned women, who was having a tough time finding a job and a boyfriend and was shown to be a complete loser, suddenly became the talk of the town after she started using Fair and Lovely fairness cream and became fair.

The criticism caused Fair and Lovely to change the "kaale ko gora bana de" positioning to try and show those who use Fair and Lovely are achievers in real life. The next advertisement to hit the market showed a girl achieving her dreams of becoming a cricket commentator and finally meeting Kris Srikanth.

The association of the original story of "kaale ko gora bana de" with the Fair and Lovely brand was so strong that it had to go back to it with the claim that the cream made women several shades lighter in four to six weeks. In that sense, Shiv Sena, like Fair and Lovely, is going back to the story which has been closely associated with it. And that cannot be bad for it as a political party.

On a separate note it does make the politics in this country more divisive and communal. Having said that, almost every regional party in India has had its origins in divisive politics. And they continue to survive on the same. Be it Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh or the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam(DMK) in Tamil Nadu.

Shiv Sena is getting back to doing what everyone else is. It is not the exception.

Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com