The lack of ambition in both the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is curious. Ever since their patriarch, Bal Thackeray, chose parochialism as the road to political power, they have stuck to this insular, divisive mantra, which keeps them confined to their home state of Maharashtra.
There is virtually no hope that they will ever be able to cross its borders to make their presence felt in other states. Even within Maharashtra, the two parties, led by cousins, have to grab issues to keep them in the limelight constantly.
In the intervening period, when there is nothing which they feel can stir the hearts of the “Marathi Manoos”, they withdraw into the background and wait for the next opportunity when an issue which can be exploited crops up.
The Shiv Sena is currently better placed in this respect because it is a part of the ruling coalition. But even that had to abandon its earlier position as the first party in the alliance when its nominee was the Chief Minister. Now, the BJP has overtaken it in a state which the Shiv Sena and the MNS regard as their fiefdom and is likely to retain its position in the foreseeable future.
It can be argued that the clash of egos between the two cousins – Uddhav and Raj – enabled the BJP to forge ahead. But it is more than likely that even if the Shiv Sena had not split, the BJP would have still occupied the first position because of its national stature, which is growing at the moment because of the Congress’s decline.
The only way in which the two Senas can break out of their provincial confinement is to shed their inward-looking outlook and try to remould the parties with a more liberal and open attitude attuned to a national vision.
Sometimes, a generational change can help a party transform itself. This is happening in the Samajwadi Party where the 43-year-old Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav appears intent on ridding the party of the thuggish elements which have given it a bad name although he is facing stiff resistance from his old-fashioned father and uncle.
But Uddhav’s son, Aditya, who is only 26, has shown no inclination to chart a new course. So the Shiv Sena continues to adhere to its old tricks of blackening faces, as of Sudheendra Kulkarni during the release of a book by a former Pakistani official and opposing a concert by the Pakistani singer, Ghulam Ali.
Now, Raj Thackeray hogged the headlines for a few days by threatening to stop the screening of the film, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, because it stars a Pakistani actor. The matter has blown over following a peace deal – some say a surrender to the MNS - arranged by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. But there is little doubt that the MNS will not rest easy till it finds another issue to hit the streets.
Not long ago, it was engaged in attacking North Indians, mainly vendors, hawkers, taxi drivers, and others from Bihar and U.P., for taking away local jobs. That chauvinistic display did not help the party emerge from the fringe. Nor will its latest show of nationalistic fervour.
So the Shiv Sena and the MNS will have to happily accept their position on the margins of Maharashtra politics with no hope of entering the national scene.
But even if they are not ambitious enough to want to play a larger role, what is odd is that they do not even want to emulate the much more influential state-level parties like the two major regional parties (AIADMK, DMK) in Tamil Nadu or the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh or the Samajwadi Party in U.P. or the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar or the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal or the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha.
These parties are also unlikely to reach the centre except as a partner in a coalition run by a national party like the BJP. But they are masters of all they serve in their home states, which the two Senas are not except as bullies who are feared but not admired.
It has to be remembered that the BJP, too, was once on the fringes. But it made its way up to mainstream politics, using fair means and foul – such as fomenting communalism – and has now succeeded in entrenching itself at the centre by espousing the cause of economic reforms and trying to keep a lid on extremists in its ranks like the ghar wapsi brigade, the gau rakshaks, and others.
On the other hand, the Congress, which once dominated the national scene like a giant, is now shrinking into being a regional outfit. There have also been parties like the Praja Socialist Party and the Samyukta Socialist Party which have faded away altogether.
Change, therefore, is a way of life in politics, underlining a party’s ability either to lead a province or the nation or mark time at the same place and play second fiddle to Big Brother. Because of a limited vision, the Shiv Sena, which is half-a-century old, and the MNS, which is ten years old, have chosen to be the latter.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)