In 1966, a political cartoonist from Bombay was discontented with electoral politics. The hitherto Congress stronghold had let down the Hindu Maharashtrian people’s mandate, in his eyes. People from other states, of different religions filtered into the city. They lived in comfort, were often employed while the natives were in deep unemployment; in his eyes, the Maharashtrian identity had been sidelined, made into a minority in their own home. That man, Bal Thackeray, would change Maharashtrian electoral politics forever with one powerful move against the UPA coalition — the formation of the Shiv Sena.
It’s easy for someone from outside of Maharashtra or Mumbai to discount the Sena. They’ve been characteristically ridiculous in the past; their language and actions particularly indefensible — from asserting that Muslims shouldn’t have voting rights to causing communal riots. The reality is that they struck a chord with the people of Maharashtra. Of course, this very blatant xenophobia held a very shaky factual foundation, but it reflected the mood of the people. Slowly, the Sena gained control in the BMC (Bombay’s municipal corporation), joining the legislative elections next. Their stronghold was Mumbai, where they exercised an inordinate amount of control over the film industry and the common man, both.
Congress, on the other hand, was bitterly divided due to factionalism after the rise of Sonia Gandhi, and yet, they held onto power, with a key figure, Sharad Pawar becoming the CM 3 times, twice as a member of the INC and once as a member of Indian Congress (Socialist) in coalition with INC. It was his last bout as CM that drove the progressive alliance out of office. With Shiv Sena and the BJP both gaining support and the rising Hindu nationalist sentiment, Shiv Sena-BJP came into power for the first time. This changed the face of Maharashtra forever, and the 2014 re-election of Shiv Sena-BJP has brought us to where we are today.
Davendra Fadnavis, an MLA from BJP, became the CM. The only issue was Shiv Sena’s discontent with the alliance. They wished to have more autonomy and power within Maharashtra, which led to the two parties announcing that they wouldn’t be going into the 2019 state elections as a coalition. Of course, most weren’t alarmed by this, at all; both the general public and the BJP were under the impression that, at the end of the day, we would be governed by the same government we had before. The matter has, instead, become a lot more complex.
Despite the fact that the BJP won more seats than Shiv Sena, they required their backing in order to form the government, and Shiv Sena was unwilling to go in with BJP unless they promised the CM’s seat to Aditya Thackeray, the grandson of Bal Thackeray and the first member of the Thackeray dynasty to enter the legislative assembly. Unable to form the government, Maharashtra was put under president’s rule, a move that has been heavily criticized as a play by the BJP to retain control of the state.
In a move that shocked all, in the early hours of the 23rd of November, Davendra Fadnavis was declared CM with NCP’s Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar’s own nephew, as deputy, despite the NCP’s insistence that they were loyal to the INC-SS-NCP alliance that had pledged to form the government after talks. Outrage against this blatantly unconstitutional move yielded the resignation of Fadnavis even before a floor test. With the majority established, Uddhav Thackeray, the legendary Bal Thackeray’s son became the CM of Maharashtra and effectively the first Shiv Sena politician to have the post. Although Ajit Pawar’s move caused a rift within the two parties, he still retained the position of Deputy CM. Aditya Thackeray, who had been positioned as the future CM, took a high ranking position in the cabinet.
While the coalition took power, it seems as if their inherent values may yield a state teetering on the brink of collapse or on the brink of great progression. To anyone paying attention, this coalition is both troubling and hopeful. It’s clear from this that political parties in India are malleable, and are willing to put their fundamental positions aside simply to come into power — take the NCP’s willingness to put aside its ideologies to associate with a notoriously xenophobic party, but it’s also a testament to the how ideological differences can be overcome to make constructive changes. Today, Maharashtra stands unsure; a reflection of the political mood of India. The juxtaposition of our 21st-century modernity with conservative cultural values have brought us all at a crossroads, and what happens in Maharashtra may be an indication of where this country and its people are heading.