Thackerays vs Shiv sainiks

On 11th May 2023, the Supreme Court finally delivered its long-awaited judgment on Maharashtra’s political battle. Recognising the limitations posed by precedent of Nabam Rabia vs Deputy Speaker, SC referred the case to a larger bench for reconsideration. The Court emphasised that the umbilical cord between Shiv Sena Political Party and Shiv Sena Legislative Party […]

On 11th May 2023, the Supreme Court finally delivered its long-awaited judgment on Maharashtra’s political battle. Recognising the limitations posed by precedent of Nabam Rabia vs Deputy Speaker, SC referred the case to a larger bench for reconsideration. The Court emphasised that the umbilical cord between Shiv Sena Political Party and Shiv Sena Legislative Party (SSLP) cannot be severed as it would mean inability of voters to seek accountability from political parties and elected representatives. Despite sidestepping disqualification matter and rendering appointment of new whip as illegal, the Maharashtra government formed by Eknath Shinde with BJP under Devendra Fadnavis was adjudged legitimate and constitutional. What clinched the judgment in favour of CM Eknath Shinde was the fact that Uddhav Thackeray resigned without facing floor test.

The issues of anti-party activities, right to issue whip etc. became inoperative in this case because Uddhav Thackeray did not face floor test. Long before the judgement, voices including senior leaders like Prithviraj Chavan and Sharad Pawar had pointed out that resignation was a mistake. NCP leader Sharad Pawar even expressed displeasure at not being consulted before taking decision. After yesterday’s SC judgement, fingers are again pointed at Uddhav Thackeray by the MVA constituents on his “tadka fadki rajinama” (rash & hurried resignation). To understand the causes leading up to the resignation, it is important to understand Thackeray brand of politics.

In Marathi, a popular proverb goes “Jhakli Muth Sava Lakhachi” which roughly means “A closed fist is worth more”. Placing the cards close to chest and creating perception of strength was always part of Thackeray playbook. Shiv Sena was formed in 1966. Despite being an electoral failure for first couple of decades, Shiv Sena with its foot soldiers always had nuisance value on the streets. The murder of CPI leader Krishna Desai by Shiv Sainiks in 70s and violent anti-migrant stance enhanced this image. This nuisance value created perception of strength even though it was only in late 80s that Shiv Sena emerged as a dominant electoral force in BMC elections. The late Shiv Sena pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray was successful in combining his charismatic persona, organizational skills and oratory to fuel this strongman image of Shiv Sena. Shiv Sena thrived and eventually became a political force which can punch way above its real weight. However, things started going downhill when Uddhav Thackeray took charge of the reins. After the Shiv Sena-BJP government of 1995, long time Sainiks like Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane started being sidelined. Raj Thackeray who was beloved by the Shiv Sena cadres had to make way for Uddhav Thackeray.

A resentful Raj Thackeray bid “Jai Maharashtra” to the party and formed his own Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). First, the Thackeray’s alienated the old guards like Narayana Rane and Joshi. Raj Thackeray episode divided the young cadres too. When Balasaheb expressed surprise at newbie MNS candidates polling over a lakh votes in many constituencies in 2009, it was the first visible signs of Uddhav Thackeray’s incompetence. The presence of Balasaheb was a glue which kept party together and hid the incompetence of Uddhav Thackeray.

The first election after Balasaheb era started exposing Uddhav Thackeray’s poor leadership hidden behind perception. After sitting in the Opposition initially, Shiv Sena joined government when they found NCP was willing to offer support. Such a flip flop exposed hunger for power. Moreover, Uddhav’s tirade against own BJP-Shiv Sena government and MLA’s claiming to have resignation letters in pocket created political confusion among Shiv Sainiks. The rank and file of Shiv Sena was disturbed as Saamana targeted the Hindutva-oriented government of Devendra Fadnavis while still being in power with BJP. If perception of weakness was something Shiv Sainiks hated, they got more of it after 2019. Thackeray vs Shiv Sena battle intensified into ideological domain too.

On November 2019, life-long cadres of Shiv Sena got the shock of their life when Uddhav Thackeray struck a deal with NCP-Congress combine. The Shiv Sainiks had spent their life carrying the Hindutva flag, targeting jihadi elements, taking anti-Pakistan stance, digging holes in Cricket pitches to prevent Pakistan players in Wankhede stadium. Son of Shiv Sena Supremo striking deals with likes of Abu Azmi disheartened the ordinary Sainiks. The appointment of first time MLA son Aditya Thackeray as a minister was not easy to digest for Shiv Sainiks who used to taunt the Congress party’s family politics. Joining hands with sworn political enemy Sharad Pawar was not even considered a possibility. Yet, the Thackeray’s vs Shiv Sainiks continued and the situation worsened.

Uddhav Thackeray as CM not only opened his fist completely for the world to see his non-existent leadership skills, he further compromised ideology. As Chief Minister, he failed to act on killing of Sadhu in Palghar. Proud Shiv Sainiks had to play second fiddle to local NCP leaders as fund allocation towards development works was skewed in their favour. While NCP enriched itself, long standing Shiv Sainiks resented Thackeray’s inaction. Law and order problems arose. Sachin Waze, an aide of Uddhav Thackeray and former Shiv Sena functionary was appointed into police force. After defending him in floor of house, Uddhav Thackeray had nowhere to hide when Waze was found with note-counting machines and extortion money. Worse, Waze was caught on camera placing explosive materials outside the house of a top industrialist. If Uddhav Thackeray as CM displayed incompetence, Thackeray as Party leader was an absentee leader. Ordinary Sainiks never had access to him. In the Covid era, he wasn’t available even to top leaders. Shiv Sena MLA’s ran from pillar to post to get an audience with Thackeray to complain that NCP leaders were openly pitching their future MLA candidate against them; to no avail.

For around 2 decades, Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray prioritized perception battle than building leaders and developing organizational strength. As Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray who let down his own party’s ideology, perception could not outlast reality. The Shiv Sainiks vs Thackeray’s ultimately reached unsustainable levels. The June 2022 rebellion episode under leadership of Eknath Shinde was the boiling point where steam let loose and the lid burst open. True to Thackeray politics, he chose to resign than face the battle in the floor test. Unfortunately for him, he was not dealing this time with “political perception” but with “legal reality”. He tried to win the perception battle by resigning than face ignominy of a Thackeray being voted out. In the attempt, he bid good bye to the last chance to salvage his party. The Supreme Court decision may have been different if Thackeray had the courage to take the floor test. The true Hindutvawaadi Shiv Sainik won and a new leader emerged to carry ahead the baton of Balasaheb.


Shweta Shalini is BJP Spokesperson and Advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Shri Devendra Fadnavis. She is also the State in-charge of BJP North Indian Cell.