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Shiv-Sena and Bal Thackeray

Since most marathi speaking people who contribute to this newsgroup (SCIM) have conveniently tried to dodge this topic (with few exceptions), I think I want to write a few things about it. My own perceptions of Shiv Sena and its leader:

I think Shiv Sena started as a political party sometime in the seventies. At that time Bal Thakre was mainly a cartoonist and perhaps also a writer. He had strong aspirations of a political career and was also known to be a fiery orator. Anyway, at its inception it was mainly a party consisting of upper caste Maharashtrians. Its main grouse was that Maharashtrians were being unfairly treated in jobs by people who came to Bombay from outside Maharashtra and had settled down in Bombay and starting perhaps from humble beginings had risen up in life.These allegations were not entirely without any basis. It was indeed found out that people who came from `outside` worked harder and longer than the locals, mainly because they lacked a complete family life (consisting of relatives/festivals etc...) that the locals had. They also had to make some adjustments with the local culture. It was therefore no surprise that they got promoted over the locals. We are not really talking about high tech jobs here. Most of the concerned jobs were in govt. agencies, banks etc. Anyway, after they got promoted and were in positions of power, they tried to hire other people who belonged to the same community (sometimes even the same caste) as theirs. What it led to was a lot of migration from several states into Maharashtra, prominent among which was Tamil Nadu. Hence the initial Shiv Sena political platform consisted of opposing this so called injustice.

If the Sena had argued that such hiring (along community/caste lines) was wrong and detrimental, they have my support since this is sickening favoritism. But they questioned the right of the people from `outside` to hold those jobs in the first place! I think anyone who agrees with the Sena on this issue (and is living in the united states) should pack his/her bags and catch the next flight home!

The next big thing that happened in Bombay was the Textile Mills strike. The textile mill workers were made up of about 75 % Maharashtrians and 25% from the rest of the states (now mostly north indian states). When the workers struck work and the management did not give a hoot, the mills closed down, and the workers starved. Since we are not really talking of highly skilled workers here and there was no such thing as job retraining, most of them could not get alternate jobs. The Shiv Sena used the following argument, "When the mills closed down and the workers were starving, all the `outsiders` went back to there own states. The marathi workers stayed back because they had nowhere to go. Tommorrow if Bombay goes in a slump, all the `outsiders` will have some place to go, except for the Maharashtrians."

The above is a very clever agrument indeed and I do not know what will happen if Bombay goes in a slump. The only thing that came out of the above two examples was the formation of what was called the `Staniya Lokadhikaar Samiti.` For the first time somebody realized that one has to compete to get a job and to keep it. Education and hard work are more important than the language that one speaks. That was what the Samiti did. It firstly gave information about job availablity. Told people how to go about applying for one. Gave them interview training. It also formed a network of people who were in postions of power to help with the hiring process. The Samiti was reasonably non-militant and its ideology was: In an ideal world, it would be good if there was nosycopancy, favoritism etc....But if people in other states are doing it, and they are coming to Bombay and are doing it, lets try and outdo them.

Well, I think somewhere in the 80`s the Sena changed its image. Firstly it no longer restricted itself to upper caste Maharashtrians, but widened its base to include all Maharashtrians. It started becoming more visible on the social front. It realized that most educated Maharashtrians would not support an agenda based on hating people from other states. It started city cleanliness drives, operated ambulance and hearse services. This had a lot of positive effects. It got them some goodwill, but more importantly, it employed hundreds of youth who would have otherwise been unemployed. It also employed better spokespeople, better public relations. For instance it successfully lobbied for having all road names in Bombay to be in Marathi and all directions to be in Marathi also. It did not argue whether they should/should not be in English/Hindi. The argument it gave was again quite clever. It said, "Look around in other Indian cities. You will find names and directions in the local language. Why does it have to be different in Bombay? Either remove those signs in other cities or stop calling them cities."

I have mixed feelings when I hear such arguments. I think in India, Maharashtra is to the other states, what in the world the United States is to other countries. Since our state is economically the strongest, probably the most liberal and advanced state also, we need to take the initiative in a lot of things in India. We can`t afford to move in the backward direction, but rather encourage other states to move in the forward direction with us.

In the nineties, the Shiv Sena again changed its image. After it had tasted power for the first time in the Bombay Muncipal Corp., and had experienced defection in its ranks, it tried to widen its power base by including all Hindus. No longer would any Sena leader talk against any Tamilian or UPite. Their ire was instead directed against the Muslims. I think so far, this second change of image has helped them politically in the recent elections and coming to power.

That`s all folks. Comments are welcome. Factual errors if any may also be brought to attention.

Harshad Sardesai

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