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Shiv Sena casts its net wider for the BMC polls. That’s welcome

By: |
January 20, 2017 12:00:36 am

Parochialism, it appears, is no match for the evolving political realities in Mumbai. The Shiv Sena, whose politics has been dominated by an articulation of Marathi identity through an anti-migrant and anti-minority sentiment, seems to be loosening its grip on its nativist agenda for the upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Cooperation (BMC) polls.

Part of the campaign, reportedly spearheaded by Bal Thackeray’s grandson, Aditya Thackeray, is using #Didyouknow to highlight the development work undertaken by the BMC to target youth and middle-class voters from across communities as a response to the changing demographic in the city.

Mumbai has indeed seen waves of migrants from across the country for much of its history. The Shiv Sena’s reaction to “outsiders” in the past has been centred around the intimidation of these groups and tapped into the insecurities of the Marathi community. Over time, especially after the alliance with the BJP, Bal Thackeray’s party grew into a prominent far-right force in Maharashtra as well as India’s richest municipal body — the BMC.

In its alliance with the BJP, the Shiv Sena was the dominant partner till recently. Over the last two assembly elections, however, the party’s share in the assembly has fallen: In 2014, the BJP won 122 seats and the Shiv Sena just 63. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), formed after Raj Thackeray split from the Shiv Sena, has also hijacked some of the Shiv Sena’s agenda.

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The dwindling electoral fortunes of the Shiv Sena arguably illustrate the shrinking space for the kind of politics that brought it to prominence. The party’s reaction to it is heartening: Rather than continuing to demonise migrants and minorities, it appears to be choosing a relatively cosmopolitan approach. This may be because the next generation of leaders like Aditya Thackery see the limitations of the politics of their seniors.

On the other hand, the #Didyouknow campaign may well be a flash in the pan and the party could go back to its roots if it does not yield results in the municipal polls. Mumbai, meanwhile, continues to grow more diverse: According to the 2011 census, 68 per cent of the its denizens are non-Maharashtrian. The Shiv Sena may find that it needs to address issues of development and dignity that appeal to a wide cross-section of the population of the city and the state if it wants to remain relevant in the long term.

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First published on: 20-01-2017 at 12:00:36 am
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