Opinion | Maharashtra: Resurgence of the Hindu nationalist (even) by other means

Creative: Onmanorama

Uddhav Thackeray has exited into the political wilderness, with two more years yet to complete his term as Maharashtra CM. Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde, supported by his team of 38 rebel MLAs, will be sworn in as the Maharashtra CM. The rebels broke away from Shiv Sena because they found Uddhav not loyal to the rather extremist agenda of the founder of their party, Bal Thackeray.

So now we have the more militant Sena faction still in sway, supporting the even more militant, larger Hindutva party, the BJP. The financial capital of India is no longer secular in any real sense. This is a very important schematic victory for the BJP not just because their talents in political subversion are in full play, but also because they are now in a better position to further their agenda in converting India into a Hindu-nationalist economy, which is a euphemism for the State interventionism in capital formation and labour. Which, it appears, is India’s destiny. On the upside, patriotism could be a spiffy market.

Uddhav Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis interacting with each other at the 'Dwishatabdi Mahotsav' of Mumbai Samachar, in Mumbai on Tuesday, 14 June 2022. (Photo: Nitin Lawate/IANS)

Uddhav’s appeal to the genteel classes — warm to rights, cold to duties — has not helped him. Or the fact that he made friends with the Congress or the NCP, entities that his father, Balasaheb Thackeray, considered anathema.

That Uddhav was not very accessible to either his party workers or the constituents (the NCP and the Congress mainly) of the Maha Vikas Aghadi that fought the assembly elections three years ago, has been spoken about at length. These certainly contributed to his downfall.

Equally the revenue department was not in the hands of the Sena. What’s power without a bank balance but a shark without teeth? Uddhav seriously mistook his surname for real politics and his Thackeray legacy as armor. Politics in India is brutal. Uddhav’s naïveté was an invitation for a natural politician like Amit Shah to steal his chair from under the reluctant ex-CM.

Eknath Shinde, who was instrumental in splitting the Shiv Sena, will need to watch out. Though in the new BJP ministry he has been promised the rank and position of the deputy CM, which will ensure a flow of cash and goodies to his followers, he is likely to see steady depletion of his support base by 2024 when Maharashtra goes in for assembly elections. The BJP would have made inroads into Shinde’s supporters, and he is highly likely to find himself isolated by the end of the present term.

For the great strategist Amit Shah, the feather of Mumbai in his cap is more than a personal victory. With Delhi and Mumbai in his control, national politics, finance, and culture are the more easily manoeuvrable.

With the BJP in power in Maharashtra, Sensex sentiments are more than likely to move up in the near future despite weak global markets. And, because Fadnavis has to show a few things in his favour for the 2024 elections, the Metro work in Mumbai will gather speed.

Mumbai is where Indian mass culture is shaped. Bollywood movies, therefore, could be expected to be more patriotic and mythical, and social media campaigns for and against actors and other cultural players even more strident. This is a cause for concern, but this is exactly what one must contend with.

The fact of the matter is that India is going under a juggernaut. A tidal wave of retro politics that questions a great number of things the liberals (so far, the articulate India) took for granted. This can be seen as bad news. Especially in terms of tolerance for dissent, minority faiths, and other liberal advocacies. That entire narrative is changing with every electoral/legislative victory that the BJP engineers.

What Mumbai is showing is that a very strong local party like the Shiv Sena that built its relevance and reign on the rights and preferential treatment of the sons of the soil can be sidelined by a national — and nationalist — party. The nationalist has supplanted the native. The nation has vacuumed out the state.

COVID-19 in India
People gather in large number at the Juhu beach after authorities allowed opening of beaches for public, in Mumbai, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Photo: PTI

Mumbai is the cresting of the wave that has been gathering since 2014. There has been a BJP government before in Maharashtra, but that was with the support of the Sena. Nationally too, for a while, this was the case. But now that narrative has completely changed. In Maharashtra, as increasingly elsewhere, a Hindu nationalist consciousness is at work — for good or bad. And a kind of consolidation of the Hindu vote is happening, not just in electoral politics, but in terms of machinations. That just means the uber Hindu is a validation principle at work even in closed rooms and offices.

The decimation of local opposition is increasingly in evidence all over India. Besides the growing Hindu nationalist consciousness, the lack of charismatic regional leaders also contributes to the emerging trend. There would be exceptions. DMK’s Stalin in Tamil Nadu, for example. Or Marxist party’s Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala. Or TMC’s Mamata Banerjee. All three are strong leaders of cadre-based parties. And for this reason, they will never come together and offer a genuinely united opposition to the BJP. Nor has any of the three states a local Hindu agenda that can be highjacked by the BJP.

But for these exceptions, what we see in Maharashtra is the vindication of a general trend, the resurgence of Hindu nationalism. And it is here to stay at least for the next decade. The debate that the liberals should be having is not how India reached here, or even how it can be prevented. It’s a bit too late for all that. The debate should be on how to survive the next 10 years without getting completely washed out by the giant wave and swept into the unknown, outer sea.

(C P Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal.)

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