Maharashtra elections: BJP win will be the electoral demise of 'marathi manoos'

The Maharashtra assembly elections may well mark a watershed moment marking the ideological exhaustion -- at least in an electoral sense -- of the Shiv Sena/MNS brand of politics.

Lakshmi Chaudhry October 15, 2014 16:13:25 IST
Maharashtra elections: BJP win will be the electoral demise of 'marathi manoos'

"If the chaiwallah can become the Prime Minister, I can become the Chief Minister too," Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray reportedly told the party publication Saamna in an interview published today.

Maharashtra elections BJP win will be the electoral demise of marathi manoos

Reuters

The statement is all the more poignant coming from the heir of the Balasaheb's legacy and the man who aims to re-vision it for the 21st century. It also reflects the existential crisis facing his party whose 'marathi manoos' ideology is fast reaching its sell-by date in the Modi era of right-centre politics. Over the past weeks, even as the two Senas did their best to rally the voters around a Samyukta Maharashtra plank, the prime minister led a barn-storming campaign around the state, repeating his favorite mantra: “Na praant-waad, na jati-waad, na bhasha-waad; sirf aur sirf vikas-waad, vikas-waad, vikas-waad.” (Say no to regionalism, caste and linguistic politics; let us only have politics of development, development, development.)

On the day of the election, all Uddhav can offer is a 'me-too' version of the same.

Where the ascendance of Modi once promised a golden age of Hindutva for the greater parivar members -- at least, according to RSS plans -- it has now become an omen of obsolescence for many of the same. Looking back, the Maharashtra assembly elections may well mark a watershed moment marking the ideological exhaustion -- at least in an electoral sense -- of the Shiv Sena/MNS brand of politics.

When the BJP unceremoniously dumped its long-term ally, the Sena went into default mode, reverting to the regionalist rhetoric it knows best. It seemed the only antidote to any prospect of a Modi wave, as Hindu columnist Varghese K. George notes.

 Realising this, the Thackeray cousins — Shiv Sena (SS) chief Uddhav and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Raj — have focussed their campaign almost entirely on Mr. Modi, trying to portray the BJP’s Maharashtra project as a Gujarati conspiracy to take control of the State and reminiscent of the Mughal invasion of the Maratha kingdom in the 17th century. Mr. Modi’s tagline, in tune with the pan-Indian narrative that he has been creating, is an emphatic rebuttal of SS-MNS politics. “There is a strong middle class among the Marathis and Mr. Modi is more appealing to them than any Marathi sentiment,” says [Pune University's] Prof. Palshikar.

That the messenger of this bit of bad news is Modi is, of course, cruel irony for a party whose first gained strength by playing to the antipathy of the Gujarati mercantile class in the city. The party has since moved on to other 'enemies' of the marathi manoos, to 'lungiwalas', i.e. South Indians, Dalits, and most recently, thanks to its ideological challenger Raj Thackeray, the North Indian 'bhaiyyas'.

The electoral dividends of an exclusionist politics in an era of aspiration-driven mobilisation have always been limited. Even these modest gains may be wiped out in this new era where the BJP's campaign strategy rests not on Shivaji but on Madison Square Garden. Rajeshwari Deshpande writes in a must-read op-ed in the Express:

The Marathi middle class of the pre-liberalisation phase (and the public intellectuals in Mumbai of that time) sympathised with the Sena’s nativist claims when they shared a sense of injustice and exclusion, as the regional political economy unravelled under the nexus of urban (outsiders) and agrarian (insiders) capitalists. This class also treasured Mumbai as a perfect cosmopolitan space where the old and new could survive happily. The new Marathi middle class has not only moved from Mumbai to Madison Square Garden in its economic and cultural ambitions but is also brimming with a sense of empowerment and agency, especially after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This class may want to preserve its own cultural space, but would hardly share the Sena’s anti-Gujarat nativist politics under its new political pact.

If the BJP wins big in Maharashtra today, the result will bear the same moral as that of the 2014 elections. Hope (real, false, whatever) always trumps fear at the polling booth.

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